In the city of the future, you’ll start your day by logging in to work remotely or checking your app to reserve a parking spot close to the office. If you were taking public transit, you could order a bus to pick you up at your door. With city streets embedded with sensors, you’ll have access to real-time information on everything from air quality to traffic jams.
While it may seem like science fiction, this technology is already transforming cities. Propelled by the pandemic, rapid digitization and new social dynamics are changing how people work, travel and learn. These advancements are a boon for urban dwellers. Intelligent traffic systems have been shown to shorten commutes. Remote patient monitoring can deliver health care to your home. And cities stand to benefit from these developments: Urban centres that embrace innovative public services are more competitive, more productive and offer a better quality of life. They also attract the best talent, which in turn benefits businesses and investors.
Workplaces, and workforces, are changing, and company leaders can prepare by considering what these changes will mean for them. Richard Blundell is the head of strategy at Pantonium, an on-demand transit technology company, and he studies innovation and sustainability. Here, Blundell describes the five key ways cities are being transformed and how your organization can adapt along with them.
In May 2020, Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke sent most of his 5,000 employees home and declared that office centricity was over (he recently declared the location of the company’s headquarters as Internet, Everywhere). While companies had slowly been embracing flexible work, the global health crisis made it a necessity. Ongoing health concerns and social distancing requirements mean it is here to stay.
This new flexibility offers advantages, says Blundell. Talent can be hired anywhere in the world. Homes and offices can be multi-purpose, and feature wellness and education options such as gyms and childcare centres. Schools can be centres for experiential activities. Healthcare services and mental health support can be delivered remotely.
And as places of work decline in importance, says Blundell, the value of communities goes up, turning them into sources of prosperity and opportunity. The concept of the 15-minute city, for instance, which suggests that people have a better quality of life when everything they need is a short walk or bike-ride away, is already being put to use in cities like Paris, Ottawa and Seattle.
According to Statscan, ridership in Canada dropped by 64 percent between November 2019 and 2020. Fewer people travelling to and from work means fewer commuters on public transit. Health concerns have also led to more people driving alone. This means transit systems that rely on fixed routes to move people in and out of city centres are less apt to meet the customers’ needs.
One alternative is on-demand transit. Pantonium Macrotransit’s app, which lets passengers book trips on demand, is currently being used in 11 North American cities. The software lets transit authorities adjust their bus routes in real time. By meeting the immediate needs of customers, this system creates more convenient and flexible access to transit. In turn, helping people get to and from their jobs easily has positive economic and social outcomes for both workforces and employers.
The city of the future is data driven. To Blundell, this means an uptick in businesses that are platform-based and a related rise in data and intelligence as a service; 5G, the fifth generation of mobile broadband technology, will also help businesses be more efficient.
But there are also risks associated with a data-driven environment. Home office setups are often less secure, residential internet can be less reliable and remote work requires more online data sharing. All of this means IT support will be faced with logistical challenges, and data governance is an ongoing concern. “The onus is on IT and employers to make sure they have robust security systems for many different devices,” says Blundell.
This year, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink’s annual letter to CEOs delivered a stern warning. The world’s largest asset manager will now be asking companies to disclose how their business model will be compatible with a net zero economy. Fink’s message is clear: climate change is real and you must plan for it.
So how do you build resiliency and plan for sustainability? Organizations will need to be able to mitigate and adapt to risks. Depending on your industry, this could mean preparing for more extreme weather events or diversifying your supply chain. It may also mean taking steps such as meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Millennials are now the largest generation in the Canadian workforce. With that comes new expectations of engagement at work, new kinds of behaviour shaped by social media and a new emphasis on mobility including working anywhere, anytime and from any device. The workforce of the future is inclusive and diverse, has a strong culture built on trust and purpose for employees and customers, and focuses on continuous learning.
Likewise, lasting businesses, says Blundell, make personal development and innovative approaches to future growth a key part of their strategies. So how do you build a business to last? Make it purpose driven. Its reason for being, says Blundell, should be connected to human well-being. The benefits of building a purpose-driven business are clear. Purpose-driven businesses get and keep the best employees, attract and retain customers and increase returns for shareholders. Building beliefs, values and culture into that purpose will create a business that’s built to last.
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