If there’s one thing city-dwellers truly hate it’s the morning commute to the office, be it via bus, train or tube. With carriages packed to the brim, no sign of air conditioning and guaranteed delays, travelling into work has become something people love to hate.
However, recent developments in technology have changed how we connect across distances, as well as the very idea of where we work in general.
Commuting is not really fit for the workforce of tomorrow. Infrastructure was always built around the city workforce and the industrial requirements of the time. But the manner in which we do business, work with colleagues and also where the 'marketplace' physically exists has changed completely over the last two decades. Furthermore, despite the pervasiveness of the internet and mobile, ecommerce sales accounted for only around eight to twelve per cent of all retail sales last year. This will only increase in the years to come, and no doubt so will the modes in which we travel to our workplace. It is time then for a people-centric upgrade to our transport and a rethink of how we connect with our workspace.
For transport operators, commuting used to be a question of technology-driven efficiency: "How can we get people to work safely, quickly and at a nominal cost?". But we should perhaps be aiming for a more human-centered, systemic outcome: "How can we design urban mobility to promote quality of life and also boost people’s creativity and productivity?". And what if we prioritise flexibility over mobility; do we even need to prioritise mobility anymore, if we have tools powered by tech that enable us to essentially work from anywhere?
Not surprisingly, there have been an influx of mobile apps that have enabled commuting to be much smarter, such as Citymapper and Commuter Club. These apps have made urban travel either more efficient by helping commuters find the fastest route by any means from point A to point B (Citymapper), or have brought the cost of commuting down through innovative pricing plans (CommuterClub).
In addition, some technology apps have crossed the chasm to actually transform the method of the commute too. Uber and Ola are of course already ubiquitous across major cities, but in the last year, dockless bikes and accompanied apps to find and unlock them across cities, such as OFO have become wildly popular. This is of course on top of the many city bike schemes that first became commonplace in global cities a decade ago. Furthermore, cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have seen millions of tech venture capital flowing into dockless scooters such as Bird and LimeBike recently, on the gamble that it will be the next big way people will choose to get around. These innovations all have the same common theme: they are all people-centric.
The other side of this discussion is that the workplace itself is transforming travel in that employees are commuting less by setting up their office anywhere. This is leading to a more flexible work/life timetable. Tech start-ups such as Hubble help businesses and freelancers find this type of flexible office space using artificial intelligence. This is more pertinent now than ever before, as businesses want to increase and decrease in desk size depending on which projects or clients are in hand. Large start-ups such as Slack and Zoom, as well as tools in the cloud such as the Google Work Suite have made remote communication easy from anywhere across the globe. Employees no longer need to travel. Rather they can work in a local co-working space or take up a hot-desk within a business centre and pay just a membership fee. The rise of the digital nomad, for example, has been characterised by the ability for freelancers and remote employees to work from anywhere, even exotic locations such as the beach.
Over the next few years we may see city councils also taking a more people-centric approach to urban planning and infrastructure development. They may become more open to dockless modes of transport as well as helping promote cost-saving tech apps. The overall outcome could improve general workforce productivity and efficiency. In addition, businesses will recognise that the work timetable is becoming more people-centric, and can be completed effectively from all manners of remote locations. And hopefully in doing so, it will transform today’s rather more inhumane commute into a more people friendly experience.