Cluster Commuters: How Returning to the Office Could Change Our Cities and Lives | Work at home

AAs movement restrictions loosen in Australia’s two largest cities, the shape of the post-pandemic work week is quickly the subject of debate between employers and employees. But the question that preoccupies some urban commentators is not just how many days will be spent working from home, but which ones.

The Committee for Sydney – an urban think tank that represents organizations such as universities, hospitality, construction and entertainment – recently interviewed heads of 130 organizations that employ 640,000 workers across Australia on expected staff attitudes and expected requirements in a vaccinated and post-Covid future.

The survey found that 51% of bosses expect their employees to come to the office just three days a week, and 36% expect their staff to group their workdays Tuesday through Thursday.

This prompted the committee to urgently reiterate calls for changes to public transport pricing to offset the emerging “new long weekend” and spread travel more evenly over the week.

Commuting cluster

The predicted trend of working from home on Mondays and Fridays started to be seen across Sydney from the end of May, when Covid rules were most lenient after the northern beaches outbreak, but the global movement was still considerably lower than pre-pandemic levels.

The data, compiled by research firm Roy Morgan and based on the movement of mobile devices in Sydney’s CBD, found that in the week starting May 24, Monday’s movement was down 66% by compared to pre-pandemic levels for January and February 2020, down 63% on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 62% on Thursday.

The reduction was also only 62% on Friday, but a spokesperson for Roy Morgan said the numbers did not differentiate between people moving around the city for work and leisure, including those who went to entertainment venues, restaurants and bars in the evenings, noting that was traditionally more common on Fridays after work.

Weather conditions also appear to have an impact on commuting behaviors. The same data from Roy Morgan showed greater overall movement in Sydney’s CBD in late April, when the weather was sunnier and warmer than the sampling period in May.

However, the trend of workers appearing to cluster between Tuesdays and Thursdays remained, with a similar proportional decrease in trips observed on Mondays between April and May.

Committee Sydney chief executive Gabriel Metcalf believes the NSW state government must now consider an expected change in commuting behaviors as it plans for Sydney’s future.

“At the moment, I think there is a lot of uncertainty among employers, but there are signs that a lot of people will be coming to town on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays only,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf said “it won’t be ideal” if such a trend occurs, because “CBD retailers and restaurants, as well as our public transportation and road system, will see the peak in demand spread over just three days at the time. instead of five “.

“One idea worth exploring is to have a different fare structure for public transport, so that it costs less to travel on days of low demand, which could be a little push to alleviate the load on the transport network and traffic, but would also have the advantage of equalizing the demand for small businesses and restaurants.

The committee’s calls to change public transportation pricing and promote wider trails and more parks are in its list of 12 suggestions for updating NSW’s future 2056 Transportation Strategy. It also includes calls to expand the city’s metro lines, improve cycle lane infrastructure and switch to the fast train between Sydney and Newcastle and Wollongong.

Metcalf supports the NSW government’s renewed push for outdoor dining and incentives for businesses to use outdoor spaces this summer, and believes investing in after-work street events and enabling cultural institutions to open later would also help bring people into the CBD and spread peak travel. demand.

“Anything we can do to make the CBD as wonderful a place as possible is going to help, which really means doubling the amenities of public space, wider pathways, slower traffic and a very big investment in them. squares and public parks as public spaces, ”he said.

Fantastic flexibility

Throughout the Sydney lockdown, Tim Nicholas enjoyed some of the freedoms that working from home gave him. At the same time, he’s excited about the benefits of a face-to-face comeback from early November – albeit three days a week.

As the co-founder of the tech startup behind the GetReminded app, Nicholas’ small team took advantage of the pandemic to leave their fully-equipped offices in a business district in northern Sydney, seizing the opportunity for more convenient premises.

A larger company was subletting office space in its suburban office, anticipating a future where its workforce would look to work from home for much of the week.

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Before the lockdown, Nicholas didn’t go to the office every day – a luxury of working in his own businesses, he admits, gave his life “fantastic flexibility.”

Now, GetReminded will rent office space in its new office from Wednesday to Friday and plans to continue this hybrid model into the post-Covid future.

“When we heard about what they were up to, we jumped on it,” Nicholas said.

“The kind of work that we do, because it’s all done on a computer, phone calls and emails, the mix works for us because we’re getting the most out of our business. But the answer may be slightly different for each company, it depends on the personality of the employees.

Along with concerns about the city’s concentration of demand for resources in the middle of the week, a hybrid working future could bring significant benefits to workers. Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, agrees.

“The pandemic has shattered the myth that for many working from home is too difficult,” she told Guardian Australia.

McManus said bosses should help their staff choose to work from home when they want to, and that such a model can have a “real benefit for workers and businesses” as a better work-life balance can make more productive workers.

However, McManus warns that employers who continue to work from home at any level will need collateral to protect them from risks such as overwork, long hours, stress, isolation and a feeling of “never mind.” be able to disconnect from work ”.

“For those who will continue to work from home, it is essential that these provisions meet the same health and safety standards as those expected in the workplace, including Covid protections.”

She also stressed that employers’ policies on working from home should apply equally to men and women so that “there is no waiting for women to work from home”.

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