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Why reducing our reliance on the car is a casualty of Covid-19

Our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at a new report from the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) which reveals growing reluctance to hop onto crowded public transport

Cutting back on car use to reduce air pollution in cities looks like being one of the biggest casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from the RAC, which reveals than more than half of UK drivers (57 per cent) say that having access to a car is more important than it was before Covid-19 struck.

Reluctance to use public transport in the future is at its highest level in 18 years, according to research for the RAC’s annual ‘Report on Motoring’. Two-thirds of drivers in three specific groups – young drivers, those with fewer than ten years’ driving experience, and people living in the capital – are all significantly more likely to say they need a car more now than they did before March 2020.

The results, which can expect to be mirrored in other countries, will be a bitter blow to city authorities and environmental campaigners who have worked hard to curb our reliance on cars and restricted their use in city centres.

When it comes to needing to use a car for work, a majority (64 per cent) still expect to drive to offices or other places of work in the future, a figure which is almost unchanged from the 67 per cent who said they did so before the pandemic. A little over a third of drivers (36 per cent) said they expect to work from home more frequently in the future as a result of Covid-19.

‘Nearly two-thirds of people still expect to drive to offices or other places of work in the future…’

Despite the rise in home deliveries, nearly seven in ten drivers (68 per cent) say a car is essential for carrying items like shopping, up from 54 per cent last year – perhaps partly driven by the rise in click-and-collect services and people carrying out fewer, larger grocery shops than before the lockdown. Meanwhile, six in ten drivers (59 per cent) say the car is essential for meeting up with friends and family who live elsewhere in the country, significantly up from 45 per cent in 2019.

For the first time since 2002, fewer than half of drivers (43 per cent) say they would use their cars less if public transport was improved – down sharply from 57 per cent in 2019. According to the RAC’s Rod Dennis, ‘Without a concerted effort from government and local councils, the pandemic risks putting efforts to encourage drivers out of their cars for some trips back by years.’ The RAC advocates more investment in such alternatives as park-and-ride schemes, which could be evolved as park-and-cycle, park-and walk and even park-and-scoot schemes.

Choreographed workspace

As more workplace surveys come to light, a broader picture is being painted of the impact of working from home and how employees feel about it in the longer-term. For the majority of people, working from home seems to have been mostly positive; but for others, the absence of the office has been detrimental to their working experience and productivity.

A recent WORKTECH webinar titled ‘The Future of Workplace Health’ hosted a debate about how employees might return to the office and how it will change to accommodate new employee expectations. Futurologist and CEO of UnWork Philip Ross chaired the discussion between Adrienne Rowe of Merck, Luke Rondel of Saltmine and Peter Baumann of SAP.

It was widely agreed from the outset that working from home was appreciated by many employees for the trust and autonomy it brought to their jobs, but there is still a desire to come back to the office once or twice a week. If this is the case, why?

Rondel stated that ‘there is a sequential nature into how people are thinking about returning to the office’. The first phase is focused narrowly on a safe re-entry to the workplace whereas the second phase has evolved into thinking about how the office might change in the longer term, with the pressure of new workplace demands providing unique opportunities for innovation.

Current thinking suggests the new purpose of the office is as a social space which enables collaboration and maintains networks of communication. In this scenario, how can space be choreographed to facilitate the right people coming into the office at the same time?

The panellists debated the calculations and data required to facilitate a new workspace which maximises utilisation whilst engineering serendipity without over-crowding. To achieve this there is a degree of trial and error that needs to take place and, as Adrienne Rowe suggested, ‘It needs a group of workers willing to go first and evangelise the movement to real activity-based working’.

View the full webinar here:

Shift to a hybrid workforce

While organisations start to figure out what the new workplace landscape will look like for their business, in our next WORKTECH webinar UnWork CEO Philip Ross sits down with Tom Ash of Accruent and Matt Graham of EY to discuss how global organisations might shift to a hybrid workforce. While many organisations are focusing on what the physical workplace might look like, this webinar will discuss insights into how smart technology can enable accelerated shifts towards flexible workplace strategies and the adoption of remote working. Join the discussion on 19 November 2020 at 16:00 BST. More details here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platform. This edition is posted 18 November 2020.
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