The Future of Work

A Long Term View

Looking at the long-term future of work here are some thoughts and predictions.

8 Issues

Firstly, 8 issues that I think are intractable issues that will impact in different ways on work and workplaces. I’ve taken a bit more of a wholistic view with these because they all have an influence on how we work. I’ll then look at how these issues could be resolved and redefine how we work.

  • Work is being redefined by creativity and collaboration, not routine stuff. This will mean we need to redefine the workplace to support these activities. Banks of desks won’t be needed. Connecting, creative and collaboration spaces will be needed
  • Virtual connectivity will become more efficient because technology just keeps getting better
  • Diversity-opportunities and contributions from people from diverse circumstances and backgrounds will increase
  • Mental health will become even more of an issue. People need people

https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/mental-health-issues-increasing-among-australians

  • Housing will become more and more unaffordable for new talent. This will either push talent out of cities or push them into much denser living accommodations.

Affordability i.e. income/price ratio has grown from something like 2 in the 70’s to over 9 now in Sydney. So, accommodation to house talent is just getting more and more unaffordable.

  • Climate change will become more and more pressing. Transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse gases. Private transportation accounts for about 17% of total emissions. 39% of emissions are from construction
  • Transportation to and from work will become more and more difficult. Most congestion is caused by single occupancy cars. Capacity will always drive demand and demand will exceed capacity, so this is an intractable problem.  Over 60% of people travel to work by car alone in Sydney according to ABS.

Refer https://chartingtransport.com/tag/car-occupancy/

  • Liveable cities/neighbourhoods. People are demanding -i.e. less pollution, less noise, easier, safer access, open streets, place making and more connectivity.

How can we address these issues?

These are my suggestions:

  • Work redefined by creativity and collaboration

Banks of desks won’t be needed. Connecting, creative, mentoring and collaboration spaces will be needed.

  • Virtual connectivity

We will need to figure out how to blend the physical and virtual in a much more immersive and inclusive way

  • Diversity

Flexible working will open opportunities for a much more diverse and inclusive workforce.

WFH or WNH (working near home) will be imbedded in work culture

  • Mental Health

To address mental health, we need to provide opportunities for connections. The office as a meeting and connection place will increase in importance

  • Climate Change, Housing Affordability, Transportation, Liveable Cities/Neighbourhoods

These issues combine to become a really big issue that need an integrated approach.

Solutions need to include smaller transit-oriented communities where people can either walk or bike to work. Work needs to be distributed i.e. not hub and spoke, but distributed matrix based on transit-oriented communities to create a network of community-based hubs.

Head offices, if and when needed should be much smaller and only house core functions, everything else goes to the distributed matrix or co-located coworking spaces.We need to reimagine our cities to enable these outcomes and make them more liveable with denser “20-minute neighbourhoods” with less reliance on cars (electric cars will not solve congestion or other liveability issues)

How design can support Mental Health in the Workplace-Part 2

This post that explores the role of Transparency and Community has in creating a workplace that supports mental health.

Transparency

A few years ago, we did a study of workplace patterns of a major Australian legal firm and found that a small but significant percentage of lawyers had minimal or no contact with their colleagues in a typical work day. They could hide out in their offices all day and avoid human contact. No wonder research shows that lawyers have one of the highest rates of depression amongst office workers. 1.

One of the strategies to address this problem for this law firm was creating a more transparent workplace. i.e. being able to see and be seen in the workplace through architectural elements like:

  • Minimising solid partitioning-even though there were offices they had lots of glass, so colleague could see colleague
  • Breaking bread together-encouraging people not to eat at their desks (including dinner!) by providing a great place to eat. Interesting stat form our study-something like 39% of the lawyers ate dinner at their desk at least once a week.
  • Atriums and connecting stairs-being able to see all parts of the business and visually connecting practice groups. This is a physical reminder that each lawyer is part of a larger community.

Community

Cultures that have a strong sense of community have some of the longest living people in the world.  How do we create a workplace community in the age of flexible and mobile working?We can do this virtually but how about physically? Community is all about communication and developing a common culture. 

We can help enable community by creating opportunities for connections. Some examples are creating pathways that have ‘bump factor‘-places where people naturally bump into each other and can start conversations. I’ve already mentioned the importance of placemaking in Part 1. A hub centred around food and drink is another great way to help create communities. Some organisations facilitate special interest communities by creating spaces for music, gardening and even bee keeping.

With thoughtful planning we can incorporate these planning principles into a workplace design to create connections and foster communities and create a workplace that has a positive impact on mental health.

References

Why building motorways is a bad idea

Sydney’s population will grow by another 1 million people in the next 10 years. What’s the best way to transport all these extra people and make Sydney are better place to live? Lots of people think that we just need to build more roads to “bust congestion”. But are more roads and motorways the best solution? Here are 11 reasons building more motorways is a bad idea.

Roads are not good value for the money

My rough calculation based on NSW Govt information regarding costs of the Western Harbour Tunnel and the Sydney Metro and capacity for each shows that Capital cost per person per day transported for the tunnel is about $31/day vs the metro $9/day. Its roughly cost 3 times as much to transport people via a motorway tunnel than a metro. The difference could be much better used for education and health or to build a metro.

Cars are a really inefficient mode of transport

Here’s a diagram showing capacities of various forms of transport with cars the least efficient and metro trains the most. Energy usage is even worse, with cars using over 10 times as much energy as trains. Compared to biking 75 times as much. We are investing billions in the least efficient way to “bust congestion”.

48 | Corridor capacity of different modes of transportation (people/hr on a 3.5 mile-wide lane). Source: Modifi ed from Breithaupt, 2010 . 

Building new roads won’t bust congestion

The Katy Freeway in the Houston metro area is the widest freeway in North America at 26 lanes. It was expanded to alleviate severe traffic congestion, but it actually got worse.

It’s counter intuitive but adding new roadway capacity also creates new demand for those lanes or roads, maintaining a similar rate of congestion, if not worsening it. Economists call this phenomenon induced demand: When you provide more of something, or provide it for a cheaper price, people are more likely to use it.

So, building more roads won’t necessarily bust congestion-it might make it worse.

Car exhaust is really bad for you

14% of deadly pm2.5 particulates in the air come from urban traffic. The closer you are to a road the higher this is. 7% of nitrous oxide pollutants come from urban traffic. It’s even worse if you’re driving in it.

Cars are bad for our oceans

28% of microplastics in our oceans come from car tires. More cars mean more microplastic pollution.

Roads take up way too much space already

We pave over a lot of our urban environment for roads. 41% of urban Sacramento (similarly car dependent to Sydney) is used for roads and car parks vs vegetation 30%. We should be giving common spaces back to communities rather than taking it away.  

Roads are hot and contribute to Global Warming

The urban heat island effect where cities are typically 1-3 deg hotter than the surrounding countryside is partly due to the heat absorbing properties of black asphalt roads. The heat island effect increases summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs and water demand.

Roads are Noisy

Roads are noisy, and noise is bad for your health. Continuous exposure to it effects our heart and mental health. Our governments do very do very little or the absolute minimum to reduce the effects of traffic noise on neighborhoods surrounding motorways .

Roads are deadly

1146 people were killed and a staggering 32,300 were injured on roads on roads Australia in 2019. Since 1925, 190,000 people have been killed on the roads in Australia. By comparison over 100,000 Australians have been killed in all wars. In Australia’s worst day in war 1,279 Australian troops died during the battle of Passchendaele-about the same as one year on the roads.

Roads divide communities

Busy road essentially divide communities with a dangerous, noisy and polluting barrier to community connections. They make people go out of their way or difficult to cross them. They reduce or eliminate the physical connections that create communities.

They create unpleasant places

People actually love car-free environments and travel great distances to be in them. Think of your favorite tourist destination and it’s probably car free. Now think of the worst place you have ever stood in and it might be somewhere like a highway underpass or next to a busy motorway.

Some cities are starting to remove freeways to make their cities more liveable. San Francisco successfully removed the Embarcadero Freeway. The result was a triumph for downtown San Francisco, which now has kilometers of public space, walking and bike paths, plus new transit routes where the double-decker freeway once was. Other successful removals include The Alaskan Way, Seattle, Rio Madrid, Madrid and Harbour Drive Portland.

Around the world cities are questioning the place of cars and the costs of providing space and infrastructure to accommodate them. Paris in undertaking a major transformation now to eliminate or drastically reduce cars in the city. Why? Because it will make a better place to live.

And for those that think electric cars will solve all our problems-how many of the above issues will they solved by electric cars, even assuming they are charged with fully renewable energy?

We really have to reduce our dependence on cars to make our cities more livable. Isn’t it about time we had a sensible debate about the costs and benefits of more motorways for Sydney?

Visit thewaroncars.org for more information on alternatives to cars

Sources:https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/la-is-painting-its-streets-white-to-cool-down-the-city

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/09/citylab-university-induced-demand/569455/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/09/tires-unseen-plastic-polluter/

https://www.budgetdirect.com.au/car-insurance/research/car-accident-statistics.html

https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbytitle/00753BC276CCB154CA2570FF000075A8?OpenDocument

https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/climate/topic/emission-sources

httpps://laqm.defra.gov.uk/public-health/pm25.html

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/09/citylab-university-induced-demand/569455/

Click to access The_Fundamental_Law_of_Road_Congestion_Evidence_from_US_Cities.pdf

https://heatisland.lbl.gov/publications/analyzing-land-cover-urban

https://chartingtransport.com/2011/08/20/whats-happening-with-car-occupancy/https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/03/6-freeway-demolitions-that-changed-their-cities-forever/