Which New Normal after Covid-19?
We live in extraordinary times. The streets are empty. Most of us are working from home and are no longer stuck in traffic or struggling to find a parking every morning.
But what about the New Normal after the crisis?
I hear that everything will be different, that there will be a before and after the confinement. Let’s look at the possible impacts on ways of working, green mobility and parking management.
First, the catalyst for change, a virus that knows no border, religion nor economic system. A global pandemic that spreads fast and silently to create instant paralysis at world scale. As often, the most fragile of us are hit the hardest. Your odds to survive depend on age, health, money and where you live.
More than any major event, be it the economic crisis of 1929 or World War II, the extraordinary period we live in suddenly makes us realise how we the humans share the same planet and are all vulnerable, resilient, generous and full of hopes.
The fear of dying can bring out the best in people. It is often a moment of urgency, of shared intentions to change, of intense creativity and of pragmatic, result-oriented actions. It is also a moment where we all search for meaning and progress. Many of us who have been in charge of change programs will concur that that there is no better context for a successful transformation.
Let’s look at the propagation and adoption of digital technologies made in just a few weeks. Cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, Cyber Security, VR are ubiquitous. But Digital Transformation is more about people adoption than technology itself and the results are spectacular. Entire organisations are adopting new technologies to collaborate and work remotely, without going through the usual fears and resistance. Friends & families are adopting innovative ways to communicate and have fun, sometimes reaching out to distant connections for the first time. Advances in technology and adoption are meant to stay.
Back to the old normal?
I am an optimist. I know that we go through terrible times where the death toll is the news, where the economic consequences will run deep and for a long time, where individual freedom might be at risk, and where the crisis will also sometimes bring out the worst in people, but I want to believe we will come out stronger and wiser and start adopting new ways of doing things.
People in India see the Himalayas for the first time. People in Venice can see a fish swimming in their canal. Nature and wildlife are trading power with humans. But let’s be realistic, if things can get back to normal, the chances are high they will. Massive injection of public stimuli will aim at restoring the current economic system, and not doing so would be disastrous as recessions create more victims. Globalisation & E-commerce will continue to grow and the virus will also have undesired consequences, like the intention to own a private car in order to avoid risks of infection in public transport (read the recent IPSOS report on car purchase intentions in China). But equally, we are all learning a lot during this crisis and will come out transformed. It is a time for introspection, for (re)discovering simplicity, our local community, nature and what truly matters. I think it will influence the way we enjoy our free time, the way we travel, the way we consume and the way we balance work and life. As a community, what are we going to clap for at 8pm if not for the health workers?
New Way of Working in a New World of Work
I have been a regular home worker from the start of the year 2000 but for many people work was still a place you go to rather than something you do. I think we all agree that this view is definitely behind us. The question now is how are we going to adopt new habits when the situation resumes to normal. Are employers going to seize the opportunity to further encourage flexible working? And this not just for productivity but also for wellbeing and sustainability reasons. Are people going to freely opt for the appropriate mix of home-working, co-working and traditional offices that best suits them? Studies demonstrate that workers with more flexibility are twice as much committed to their organisation.
The stress of commuting has serious negative health implications and driving is the most stressful mode of transportation. Car commuters show significantly higher levels of reported stress and negative mood compared to other transport methods and this is exacerbated by lack of predictability. Green mobility is no longer the sole prerogative of environmental enthusiasts or people who had no other choice. Sustainability becomes everyone’s concern and people realise that using a mix of transport modes, for business or leisure, is good for their health too. No surprise that entrepreneurs have mobility as their top priority as they understand how essential it is in attracting and retaining talents. Again, people want flexibility and politicians have their role to play in improving infrastructure and incentives as much as constraints imposed on us.
If there’s one thing that nobody complaints about for the moment it is parking. Let’s face it, even before the confinement it was rarely on the boardroom agenda, certainly for many companies where parking is still the privilege of senior management. Yet, parking is having a key influence on many of the societal challenges we face today. First, traffic. In Brussels 30% of vehicles circulating during peak hours are simply looking for parking. Equally, morning congestions on accesses to large cities are created by employees hoping to find a spot accessible on a first come first served basis. Then, wellbeing. If you’re not part of the happy few having a nominative spot or working for a company who has adopted a dynamic allocation management system, you are part of the silent majority struggling every morning, wasting time and valuable energy trying to find a parking. You can join the dots and see how parking impacts sustainability, productivity and public health.
So how do we fix that? 2 pieces of thought
1) Completeness of Vision
As for many complex issues, where people interface with processes and technology, the answer is multifold and company executives and politicians each have their role to play. It is not enough to only address the problem partially, we need to put all the right pieces together. We need a complete vision. Politicians are developing vision and master plans for their cities, some better than others, and should focus on enablers as much as constraints like taxes or speed limits. Infrastructure and best-in-class public transport is what most people ask for (let’s talk about RER or bike lanes), combined with more shared resources, mostly electric, in a “Mobility-as-a-Service” approach. We see companies introducing mobility as part of cafetaria plans or promoting home-working once a week but executives need to impact the culture of their company by being the change they want to see. A mobility campaign can be ruined when the senior management team continues to enjoy the privilege of parking their car on a reserved spot, being left empty 30% of the time, and leaving other employees to struggle with parking in the street. This is what we at Commuty continue to see in many traditional companies today and while the baby boomers might accept that reality, the younger generations are looking to be inspired by a more virtuous model. Our app allows for dynamic management and optimisation of your parking, giving a fair access to employees when they really need it. Consequently you guarantee rightsizing and maximum occupancy of your parking while alternatives are encouraged. We need to tackle the issues of flexible working, green mobility and parking management all at once to impact wellbeing, productivity and sustainability.
Back in 2018, minister Kris Peeters already tried to introduce the #thuiswerkalarm, where people would be encouraged to work from home in case of bad weather, avoiding km of traffic and time wasted stuck in the car. This week, regional minister Philippe Henry announced a Task Force to boost remote working after the crisis in order to reduce traffic. We have been saying this for years, 25% reduction in car use would solve a lot of our traffic issues. Belgians lose more than an entire working week in congestion every year
We need to get rid of the idea that work is a place we go to. When working with colleagues or business partners in the same physical location is required, working schedules need to be flexible. The same way we can have alerts for bad weather, we can have alerts for bad traffic or lack of parking availability. This is exactly one of the things we do at Commuty, you will know in advance if you have access to your corporate parking, based on priorities and fair allocations, so you can plan your arrival stress-free after working from home for a couple of hours. When you don’t have access to the parking our app will direct you to individual mobility alternatives or suggest remote working. Predictability and fairness go a long way in removing frustration and stress, and flexibility will increase engagement and loyalty.