.
W

hile the transition towards a more remote workforce has been in effect for some time now, the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused a large percentage of the workforce to suddenly enter into a remote working situation has shed a light on many of the major challenges of working remotely—as well as some of the potential benefits. While it is unknown as to whether or not remote work will remain the new norm moving forward, there is no doubt that models such as the hybrid and remote workplace will continue to expand. Indeed, recent data from a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review revealed that 1 in 6 jobs that have become remote due to the social distancing measures put in place to ease the spread of COVID-19 are predicted to stay remote at least two days a week—even after the pandemic.

As we continue to move forward into this unpredictable new job landscape, several questions can be raised. What will be the continued effects of this all-remote workforce? What are the advantages and disadvantages to a physical office space versus a digital working environment? And more importantly, how will the potential continued repercussions of this pandemic affect urban centers and the tie between physical location and work?

Key Takeaways

Interaction and communication are essential in both physical offices and remote work models.

With the sudden transition into a remote work setting for many people, it has become much more apparent just how important interaction and communication are in running a company—and even more so, just how much the physical environment one works in can affect those factors.

The physical space between people matters. While the pandemic has brought about a deep level of empathy and a whole person approach that has made the sudden forced transition to remote work slightly more manageable, it has also brought to light just how important of a role collective space—be it a physical office, workshop, etc.—plays in social interaction, collaboration, creativity, and insight. Indeed, while virtual platforms can often serve as an effective space for dealing with basic meetings and more transaction-based issues, it is the more creative brainstorming and novel problem solving that will ultimately require the human approach of people sitting around a table and collaborating with one another face-to-face in a shared space.

Urban centers can serve as an environment of socialization for those in fully remote working positions. While organizations no doubt benefit from providing employees with a collaborative workspace, those in fully remote positions are not always able to participate in such an environment, and therefore, it is important that companies are extra intentional about creating a company culture in the online space as well. Similarly, on a more personal level, in order for individuals to not feel trapped to the social isolation that is often brought on by being socially distanced from their teams and colleagues, it is important that individuals are also intentional about socializing through other facets as well, such as rediscovering their neighborhood or even working alongside friends in a co-working space.

Luckily, with many modern cities continually working to move away from the traditional concrete jungle structure towards a much more people-friendly center of engagement full of open walk-able streets, bike lanes, expanded parks, and a vibrant café culture, urban centers can now serve as a fantastic means of socialization and interaction for those who remain in fully remote work positions even after the pandemic.

As we transition back to a hybrid workforce model, certain things from the pandemic will stick and certain things will not. As organizations slowly transition back to their original work structures, it will be important to analyze how factors such as efficiency, synergy, communication and real-life versus digital interaction affect different people in different working environments during the pandemic in order to better understand how to address the needs of the future hybrid workforce. Indeed, if we are to continue working towards a future of remote and hybrid work, it is important that we use the pandemic to collectively become more conscious of these factors—but until we have a fuller understanding of the real value of these interactions, we will most likely not have enough information to drive the smart decision-making necessary to generate a truly effective hybrid workforce.

We don’t know the long-lasting effects COVID-19 will have, if any, on city migration.

While pandemics of the past have traditionally altered the ways in which cities are planned, zoned, and created, it will be difficult to determine the long-lasting effects that the COVID-19 pandemic will have not only on urban life itself, but also the way in which people migrate in and out of cities.

It’s a time of recalibration and rebalancing for urban centers. As people continue to move in and out of city centers, the role of cities in peoples’ lives is transforming—and it is therefore important to use this time of change to recalibrate urban centers in terms of creating environments where people can live and work without sacrificing the quality of life of the city itself. However, with many mega cities having gotten to the point where people come into the city to work but can no longer afford to live there, inequality, homelessness, and joblessness have become an even larger problem for cities across the world. As we move forward, it is of the utmost importance that cities continue to work towards creating an environment that supports diversity without gentrification, density without congestion, and serendipity without over-crowdedness in order to allow people to move back in and experience a better quality of life—as well as set the groundwork for an improved and more creative knowledge-based economy.

While change is necessary, the pandemic alone will most likely not lead to many long-lasting effects on the urban landscape. While the pandemic has undoubtedly transformed many facets of life as we know it in the present, in the long-run, the fairly inflexible nature of human behavior will lead us back to business as usual. Data from Lyft, for example, has already demonstrated that as cities start to open back up, the number of people using car-sharing services has also dramatically increased. Therefore, rather than assuming that human behavior will change in some significant way due short-term changes to city life brought on by the pandemic, it is more likely that people will continue to move in and away from cities for the same reasons as before the pandemic—and consequently, it will be more important for city planners to continue their work in reshaping cities around people to attract talent back to the cities and create a better quality of life for its inhabitants.

Technology can bring access and inclusion to those who don’t live in cities. With the continued transition of the job landscape towards hybrid and remote work, living within or nearby urban centers may no longer become a necessity, and skilled individuals from more disadvantaged backgrounds may gain wider access to jobs that only require a computer. However, with less than 50% of the world still without access to the internet and other basic necessary technologies, it is of the utmost importance that focus continue to be put on creating the infrastructure necessary to bringing technology to every part of the world so that access to jobs will be made available to everyone, regardless of physical location.

It will be essential to adapt to the changes created by the COVID-19 pandemic for cities to become more resilient moving forward.

In order to build more resilient cities for the future, it will be crucial to look at how different cities have responded in different ways to the major disruptions caused by the pandemic.

As we move forward, it will be vital to collect evidence and research on the effects the pandemic has had on cities in order to engage in smart decision-making about how cities can become more resilient. As we slowly transition back to the new normal, gathering information about which cities displayed better resilience during the pandemic will be crucial. Conducting research into the causes of migration out of cities before and after the pandemic, surveying neighborhoods to create street-level ethnographical models that can be studied, and looking into how urban cities can become magnets for talent, or example, are some of the ways that will help inform decision-making moving forward and allow cities and its inhabitants to come out of the crisis much more resilient and vibrant than before.

It is time to explore more innovative development models. With the current model of cities being largely centered around who has access to land and capital for development, this financial incentive structure has created an unsustainable model of inequity. Consequently, a shift away from opportunity zones controlled by the top one to two percent of people who hold power in cities to more equitable models—such as community-based and shared equity models—will be necessary in order to make cities more resilient following the wake of the pandemic.

Second-tier cities can provide an example of resilience. As we transition out of the pandemic, it is more likely we will see, more than the mega cities, that it is the second-tier cities with a higher perception of quality life that are coming out of the pandemic more resilient than before. Indeed, it is the ways in which these smaller cities have successfully responded to the pandemic that we can ultimately use as an example of how to foster creativity, innovation and learning in order to attract and retain talent in the cities of the future.

About
Winona Roylance
:
Winona Roylance is Diplomatic Courier's senior correspondent in Asia.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

Location, Location, Location: The Role of Urban Centers for an All-Remote Workforce

October 21, 2020

W

hile the transition towards a more remote workforce has been in effect for some time now, the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused a large percentage of the workforce to suddenly enter into a remote working situation has shed a light on many of the major challenges of working remotely—as well as some of the potential benefits. While it is unknown as to whether or not remote work will remain the new norm moving forward, there is no doubt that models such as the hybrid and remote workplace will continue to expand. Indeed, recent data from a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review revealed that 1 in 6 jobs that have become remote due to the social distancing measures put in place to ease the spread of COVID-19 are predicted to stay remote at least two days a week—even after the pandemic.

As we continue to move forward into this unpredictable new job landscape, several questions can be raised. What will be the continued effects of this all-remote workforce? What are the advantages and disadvantages to a physical office space versus a digital working environment? And more importantly, how will the potential continued repercussions of this pandemic affect urban centers and the tie between physical location and work?

Key Takeaways

Interaction and communication are essential in both physical offices and remote work models.

With the sudden transition into a remote work setting for many people, it has become much more apparent just how important interaction and communication are in running a company—and even more so, just how much the physical environment one works in can affect those factors.

The physical space between people matters. While the pandemic has brought about a deep level of empathy and a whole person approach that has made the sudden forced transition to remote work slightly more manageable, it has also brought to light just how important of a role collective space—be it a physical office, workshop, etc.—plays in social interaction, collaboration, creativity, and insight. Indeed, while virtual platforms can often serve as an effective space for dealing with basic meetings and more transaction-based issues, it is the more creative brainstorming and novel problem solving that will ultimately require the human approach of people sitting around a table and collaborating with one another face-to-face in a shared space.

Urban centers can serve as an environment of socialization for those in fully remote working positions. While organizations no doubt benefit from providing employees with a collaborative workspace, those in fully remote positions are not always able to participate in such an environment, and therefore, it is important that companies are extra intentional about creating a company culture in the online space as well. Similarly, on a more personal level, in order for individuals to not feel trapped to the social isolation that is often brought on by being socially distanced from their teams and colleagues, it is important that individuals are also intentional about socializing through other facets as well, such as rediscovering their neighborhood or even working alongside friends in a co-working space.

Luckily, with many modern cities continually working to move away from the traditional concrete jungle structure towards a much more people-friendly center of engagement full of open walk-able streets, bike lanes, expanded parks, and a vibrant café culture, urban centers can now serve as a fantastic means of socialization and interaction for those who remain in fully remote work positions even after the pandemic.

As we transition back to a hybrid workforce model, certain things from the pandemic will stick and certain things will not. As organizations slowly transition back to their original work structures, it will be important to analyze how factors such as efficiency, synergy, communication and real-life versus digital interaction affect different people in different working environments during the pandemic in order to better understand how to address the needs of the future hybrid workforce. Indeed, if we are to continue working towards a future of remote and hybrid work, it is important that we use the pandemic to collectively become more conscious of these factors—but until we have a fuller understanding of the real value of these interactions, we will most likely not have enough information to drive the smart decision-making necessary to generate a truly effective hybrid workforce.

We don’t know the long-lasting effects COVID-19 will have, if any, on city migration.

While pandemics of the past have traditionally altered the ways in which cities are planned, zoned, and created, it will be difficult to determine the long-lasting effects that the COVID-19 pandemic will have not only on urban life itself, but also the way in which people migrate in and out of cities.

It’s a time of recalibration and rebalancing for urban centers. As people continue to move in and out of city centers, the role of cities in peoples’ lives is transforming—and it is therefore important to use this time of change to recalibrate urban centers in terms of creating environments where people can live and work without sacrificing the quality of life of the city itself. However, with many mega cities having gotten to the point where people come into the city to work but can no longer afford to live there, inequality, homelessness, and joblessness have become an even larger problem for cities across the world. As we move forward, it is of the utmost importance that cities continue to work towards creating an environment that supports diversity without gentrification, density without congestion, and serendipity without over-crowdedness in order to allow people to move back in and experience a better quality of life—as well as set the groundwork for an improved and more creative knowledge-based economy.

While change is necessary, the pandemic alone will most likely not lead to many long-lasting effects on the urban landscape. While the pandemic has undoubtedly transformed many facets of life as we know it in the present, in the long-run, the fairly inflexible nature of human behavior will lead us back to business as usual. Data from Lyft, for example, has already demonstrated that as cities start to open back up, the number of people using car-sharing services has also dramatically increased. Therefore, rather than assuming that human behavior will change in some significant way due short-term changes to city life brought on by the pandemic, it is more likely that people will continue to move in and away from cities for the same reasons as before the pandemic—and consequently, it will be more important for city planners to continue their work in reshaping cities around people to attract talent back to the cities and create a better quality of life for its inhabitants.

Technology can bring access and inclusion to those who don’t live in cities. With the continued transition of the job landscape towards hybrid and remote work, living within or nearby urban centers may no longer become a necessity, and skilled individuals from more disadvantaged backgrounds may gain wider access to jobs that only require a computer. However, with less than 50% of the world still without access to the internet and other basic necessary technologies, it is of the utmost importance that focus continue to be put on creating the infrastructure necessary to bringing technology to every part of the world so that access to jobs will be made available to everyone, regardless of physical location.

It will be essential to adapt to the changes created by the COVID-19 pandemic for cities to become more resilient moving forward.

In order to build more resilient cities for the future, it will be crucial to look at how different cities have responded in different ways to the major disruptions caused by the pandemic.

As we move forward, it will be vital to collect evidence and research on the effects the pandemic has had on cities in order to engage in smart decision-making about how cities can become more resilient. As we slowly transition back to the new normal, gathering information about which cities displayed better resilience during the pandemic will be crucial. Conducting research into the causes of migration out of cities before and after the pandemic, surveying neighborhoods to create street-level ethnographical models that can be studied, and looking into how urban cities can become magnets for talent, or example, are some of the ways that will help inform decision-making moving forward and allow cities and its inhabitants to come out of the crisis much more resilient and vibrant than before.

It is time to explore more innovative development models. With the current model of cities being largely centered around who has access to land and capital for development, this financial incentive structure has created an unsustainable model of inequity. Consequently, a shift away from opportunity zones controlled by the top one to two percent of people who hold power in cities to more equitable models—such as community-based and shared equity models—will be necessary in order to make cities more resilient following the wake of the pandemic.

Second-tier cities can provide an example of resilience. As we transition out of the pandemic, it is more likely we will see, more than the mega cities, that it is the second-tier cities with a higher perception of quality life that are coming out of the pandemic more resilient than before. Indeed, it is the ways in which these smaller cities have successfully responded to the pandemic that we can ultimately use as an example of how to foster creativity, innovation and learning in order to attract and retain talent in the cities of the future.

About
Winona Roylance
:
Winona Roylance is Diplomatic Courier's senior correspondent in Asia.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.