How Will We Commute to the Workplace of the Future?

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Jodi Williams
Jodi Williams
Jodi Williams AICP, LEED AP ID+C Principal; Global Solutions Director, Future Workplace, Arcadis Washington, D.C. Jodi Williams brings over 20 years of experience in workplace strategy, facility planning and change management. She leads strategic planning efforts for public and private sector clients, and has been a featured speaker at industry events such as CoreNet, IFMA World Workplace, and Greenbuild.

The third installment of our series of articles on the future of work.

Your flying car awaits.

This is the third article in our series on the workplace of the future. We kicked off the series with “A Brief History of the Workplace of the Future”, followed by “What Changes in the Workforce Mean for the Future of the Workplace”. This final aritcle examines how we get to work and how our commute impacts where workplaces are located, what they support, and how we use them.

As it stands, most workers travel from home to work each day before spending eight to 10 hours at the office. The increasing prevalence of flexible work options — including telework, working from home, and coworking — means that workers will have the option to spend less time at the office and also less time commuting. Increases in flexible work, while beneficial, also pose challenges with regard to technology, organizational policies, and social interaction. The ability to connect socially and technologically will play a large part in the long-term and widespread effectiveness of flexible work.

Despite these shifts in technology, policy, public transportation, and demographics, the majority of workers will continue to drive to and from work each day in the next five years. This means workplaces will continue to be centralized primarily in large and medium-sized cities or high-density suburban areas. Over time, this excess commute time contributes to absenteeism, decreased political engagement, health, social problems, and diminished work-life balance.

In ten years

Commuting methods and the commute itself will begin to shift as transportation alternatives evolve and the increasing prevalence of flexible work continues to provide alternatives.

The commute itself, when taken, will become more flexible and personalized, faster, more environmentally-friendly, and less dependent on single-occupant cars. In larger cities, interest in walkability, environmental sustainability, and cost-effectiveness will contribute to decreased interest in car ownership. Suburbs and semi-rural areas will continue to become more walkable and accessible by multimodal transportation.

Adapting to increases in bicycle commuting, cities have increased and more fully integrated bicycle infrastructure. Buildings are making it safer and easier for cyclists to enjoy an unimpeded commute. This means that employers will increasingly look for space that is connected to bicycle networks and serviced by bicycle share programs.

Ridesharing opportunities like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart will remain popular, and public transit systems will continue to expand routes and services. Integrated transit technology will make it easy and economical to avoid driving. Self-driving vehicles will increase in availability and popularity, affording commuters the ability to easily get from one place to another without the problems associated with traditional driving. Personal rapid transit (PRT) has the opportunity to evolve and expand, utilizing the ridesharing principles and driverless cars.

Impact on workplace design

  • Providing improved on-site support for mobile workers: Workspaces should be designed to accommodate the workforce, including those who use the office only on a part-time basis. This means designing space within the office, but it also means designing spaces that support virtual participation, such as high-quality microphones in conference rooms, video conference areas free of visual and acoustical distractions, and robust Wi-Fi to accommodate increased bandwidth requirements.
  • Combatting the stress of long commutes: As some workers undertake longer commutes from farther away, organizations will consider design elements that ease the stress of long car commutes and change policies to accommodate more flexible working hours.
  • Enhancing IT/AV support: Seamless technology must provide connectivity no matter where workers are located. Education and training can increase comfort and familiarization with technology. A shift away from specific hardware and increased reliance on cloud computing and software-based applications will enable companies to invest wisely and react quickly to change.
  • Embracing walkability and bicycling: Walkability and proximity to residential areas or other amenities will become more important in choosing a workplace location. Easy access to amenities and surrounding areas may encourage walking, biking, or alternative transportation. Additionally, providing amenities such as showers and secure storage promotes healthier commuting.
  • Reconsidering parking garage design to accommodate self-driving and self-parking cars: This may include smaller or fewer parking stalls, along with a valet-style design for dropping off and picking up vehicles.

In 25 years

As we surge ahead even further into the future, existing systems will begin to give way to solutions prioritizing high-speed and high-convenience. Ultra high-speed travel paired with technology that enables seamless remote connection will expand the options for where an employee might live or work, while freeing up more time each day for work or personal pursuits.

High-speed transit supplements will replace existing systems around the world, enabling greater connectivity and reducing time spent in transit. Magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, for example, utilize a “floating” mechanism powered by magnets are already being piloted in some parts of the world — in some cases reaching speeds over 300 miles per hour.

Flying cars will likely become mainstream; Slovakian company AeroMobil test flew a prototype in 2014. This has massive implications for not only urban planners but also building designers.

While implementation rates vary by geography, future transit is faster, more convenient, and more accessible, impacting the ways future workers arrive at work each day and driving the location of workplaces themselves.

Impact on workplace design

  • Designing for 24/7 operations: Around-the-clock support and connectivity services, as well as video conferencing and virtual meeting capabilities, will encourage easy connectivity.
  • Exploring opportunities for consolidation: With the ability to work anywhere and at any time, offices in the future will be able to consolidate in major urban, suburban, or rural areas with less emphasis on employee residence patterns.
  • Providing secure and accessible space for employees: Employees will have 24 hour access to workspace meaning security accommodations and procedures will increase.
  • Planning for flying cars: Flying cars will require parking and access, which may be accommodated as part of the building. Roof space may be provided for parking; below-grade garages and extensive ramping systems will become a thing of the past.

What if…

We continue to explore the less likely, but still possible “what ifs”:

… public transit doesn’t exist?

… climate change eliminates all transportation options that do not use clean fuel sources?

… teleportation becomes possible?

… remote work technology makes the commute obsolete?

It may seem unlikely, but we live in a quickly changing world, and who’s to say what innovations could surface in the future. What we do know is that the commute will change, and that designers will have to accommodate for it.

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