- The onset of the pandemic triggered a migration from big cities, but according to recent findings, this appears to be temporary.
- Experts claim that 70% of people who live in a central city want to live there: but there are areas that need to be improved upon, such as cost of living.
- Here is a summary of the key takeaways from WORKTECH Chicago 2021, which addressed the immediate and future impact of the pandemic on the world of work.
WORKTECH Chicago took place earlier this week. The virtual conference explored the future of work and the workplace, especially as it relates to commercial real estate, technologies, and organizational change.
Allwork.Space attended the event and one big takeaway is this: despite many people proclaiming the death of the city and the office in 2020, we are happy to announce that the city and the office are very much alive and well.
Below are some highlights and key takeaways from the virtual event.
The Future of Work is in the City
Yes, there was a mass migration out of big cities last year with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that migration was temporary and the city remains the cultural high-water mark for workers and companies alike.
Google’s $2.1 billion purchase of St. John’s Terminal building in Manhattan is proof of this. So is Walgreen’s recent announcement that they will close their suburban headquarters in the outskirts of NYC.
Speaking at WORKTECH, Samuel Kling, Fellow & Director of Global Cities Research, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said that the cultural primacy of cities is enduring, despite migration patterns created by the pandemic.
“One shock like the pandemic is not enough to change the view of the city.” – Samuel Kling
Kling shared the results of a recent survey to support his claim:
- 70% of people who live in a central city want to live in a central city.
- Only 8% of those living in a central city would rather live in the suburbs.
- 60% of those who live in the suburbs want to live in the suburbs.
- 30% of those currently living in the suburbs want to live in a central city.
When asked about how the pandemic changed the preferences of type of community life people want to live in, the survey found that for 50% of respondents, the pandemic had no effect. A quarter of respondents said that they wanted to move to a bigger city, and among suburbanites, 1 in 5 said the pandemic made them more willing to live in a different community.
The results of the survey undermine the idea that the pandemic is pushing people out to the suburbs and that they want to leave the city behind.
While people still want to be in the city, they also want to see some changes take place.
Cities Need to Change
While city-life is still attractive for workers, there are areas that need to be improved upon.
Affordability of housing and cost of living are the top ones, followed by dissatisfaction with inequality, crime, and policing.
Beyond that, Kling argues that it is time to reimagine the city—especially when it comes to downtown areas.
Mix-use developments are key to city vitality. Downtown areas need to be more than a collection of office buildings, they need to deliver on a variety of services needed for community life.
The concept of the 15-minute city became quite popular with the pandemic as people spent more time in their communities.
Just as we need to reimagine downtown areas, we need to reimagine our neighborhoods. Downtown is not just a place to work, just as much as our neighborhoods are not just a place to sleep. Both areas need to be places where people can live, places that offer all of the conveniences we need on a daily basis.
In Chicago, specifically, the need to change is pressing.
Kling argues that Chicago has some unique challenges because it is a very centralized city; the center of Chicago is commercial while its surrounding areas are residential. The challenge with Chicago is that its transportation system converges fully downtown.
“It is really a city built for commuters; going from the outside to the center.”
This has become a critical issue since the pandemic as people are moving less from outside to the center and more from neighborhood to neighborhood… and the transportation system was not built to support that. This means that Chicago’s transportation system is no longer effective.
The Future of the Office Is Smart
The office remains a key part of the future of work. What has changed, however, is that now that people can work from anywhere, companies need to start thinking about how they can create a workplace that employees will really enjoy, Larry Gadea from Envoy said.
One way to tackle this issue is by creating an app-centric workplace.
Renee Tordjeman, Workplace Innovation Consultant at UnWork and Jarrod Easterwood Director, Marketing & Partner Relations at AVUITY talked about how technology can help create a workplace that is attractive for employees.
Why? One word:
Technologies that allow organizations to gather data about how many people are coming into the office or a building day in and day out and how people use and interact with the space can help organizations create a workplace that truly caters to worker needs.
Data can also help workers find the best space to work from based on current needs, preferences, and tasks at hand, Easterwood said. He further added:
“At the highest level, data can really inform leasing and expansion decisions based on corporate footprint. Companies that aren’t sure what their next CRE move should be can use data to inform their decisions.
At a micro level, it can help inform what types of spaces will be part of an expansion or contraction. As a company renovates, grows, or expands, they can turn to data to identify spaces that are not being properly utilized.”
Tordjeman believes that with hybrid work models on the rise, understanding how people use space is key to creating a positive workplace experience.
“With hybrid work, many companies are likely to give back a certain number of floors or square feet. Other use cases with data can help create a better experience simply by keeping items in stock. For example, knowing how many people come in on a daily basis and how much time they spend within the office can help organizations calculate supplies, food that the cafeteria may need, and how often bathrooms need to be cleaned and sanitized based on usage.”
During the presentation ‘Great Expectations: The Journey towards the Smart Experience’, Jeroen Gieling, Sales Director Workplace at VECOS argues that the way forward is by providing dynamic working—which will look different for different organizations depending on the work models they implement moving forward.
Gieling believes that the key to a positive workplace experience is to allow workers to move dynamically through the workplace from one day to the next.
“Workplaces need to be designed to be flexible, to allow for people to ‘just drop by.’ These offices will need to be tech-enabled with data analytics to optimize the workplace in real-time.”
Gieling proposed 4 practical things that organizations need to keep in mind when creating the workplace of the future:
- Office needs to enable people to work from anywhere.
- Office setup needs to anticipate needs (which requires that employees have control).
- Office has to have the ability to support people and make it easy for them to move around.
- Office needs to be data-driven. “You need data to know what people really do, not just what they say they do.”
If you couldn’t make it to WORKTECH Chicago, you still have time to register for WORKTECH New York, WORKTECH San Francisco, and WORKTECH Los Angeles. You can find more information about upcoming WORKTECH events here.