After the pandemic has handed, will there be a long-term legacy, of extra individuals working remotely, some or all the time?
And if that occurs, what is going to it imply for our cities?
Practically 25 years in the past the British journalist Frances Cairncross predicted that the rise of the web and broadband would result in “The Dying of Distance”.
She argued that the decline of bodily location as a key determinant of financial exercise would imply a “rebirth” of cities: “As people spend much less time within the workplace and extra time working from dwelling or travelling, cities will remodel from concentrations of workplace employment to centres of leisure and tradition.”
It was a provocative idea – however on the time she was writing broadband was not adequate or ubiquitous sufficient to permit giant numbers of individuals to work remotely. The know-how had not caught up with the idea.
It was additionally a idea that ran up towards the arguments of different thinkers about cities, such because the city theorist Richard Florida. In his view the expansion of the information financial system meant that the “artistic class” had been changing into ever extra necessary to prosperity. The software program builders, promoting copywriters, architects and product managers and different creatives wanted to return collectively, to work together, to share information and spark concepts.
On this view, the depth of human engagement in cities is essential in a information financial system, and we are going to see extra individuals concentrating collectively in city workspaces reasonably than fewer.
The pandemic has been an enormous pure experiment to check a few of these concepts. COVID-19 made the workplace immediately off-limits, and the world of labor – together with the worlds of social interplay and training – reworked practically in a single day to function nearly totally on-line.
If the pandemic had come alongside even 10 years earlier, that sudden transformation may possible by no means have efficiently been achieved. However as we’ve all found, Zoom, Skype, Groups, Webex, BlueJeans and lots of different videoconferencing apps have made it sensible to work and research from dwelling.
What we additionally realized was that if you happen to had been working from dwelling, having a great broadband connection actually, actually mattered.
The Coalition’s 2013 resolution to basically reshape the nationwide broadband community rollout technique paid large dividends in 2020. It meant that 98 per cent of all premises in Australia had been ready to connect with the NBN when COVID hit.
The NBN confronted sudden and surprising calls for in 2020 – however held up very effectively. The quantity of information being downloaded through the day, with so many individuals working from dwelling, was up about 70 per cent on pre-COVID-19 ranges. Very importantly, videoconferencing is a two-way know-how, so that you want good add speeds in addition to good obtain speeds. Complete information uploads on the NBN rose practically 110 per cent as soon as COVID hit.
A transparent lesson from the pandemic, then, is that we’ve the know-how to permit hundreds of thousands of individuals to work at home. The premise of Cairncross’s e-book is now actual. However what we don’t but know is how we are going to behave as soon as the pandemic is behind us and there’s no longer a must work at home.
As Communications Minister I oversee insurance policies designed to supply extensively out there, high-speed broadband providers, in flip permitting financial and social exercise to flourish over broadband.
With newly added duties for City Infrastructure and Cities, I additionally want to contemplate what altering work patterns, stimulated by broadband and different know-how, imply for our cities.
It’s attainable, as some have argued, that we are going to see everlasting and profound adjustments to the way in which individuals work – with fewer individuals working from CBD workplaces, and extra individuals working within the suburbs or in regional areas. If that’s the case, that can have important implications for the way in which that we design cities and the transport arteries that enable individuals to maneuver round them and between them.
However maybe the very first thing to do is see how behaviours adapt as soon as the pandemic is behind us.
Regardless of having spent the previous 25 years working in and round telecommunications, my sense is that folks retain an instinctive feeling that direct human interplay is richer and extra satisfying than watching different individuals on screens. In different phrases: the city theorists had a degree.
Undoubtedly, most of us have realized that we are able to do far more on screens than we’d beforehand realised. We now have the instruments at our fingertips to drag collectively a videoconference with 10 individuals if we have to, and that we are able to do it shortly.
Will we hold utilizing that information when all restrictions are lifted? After all.
However to leap to the conclusion that the workplace is useless and cities as we all know it is going to be basically reshaped? I’m not so certain.
Paul Fletcher is Minister for Communications, City Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts.