Spark

The future of working, shopping, and getting around

Safe to say, 2020 has been a long year, full of challenges, as well as opportunities to do things differently. We look back at the progress we've made in everything from transportation, to retail to working remotely and think about where we go from here.

Now that the pandemic has changed how we move through our communities, where do we go from here?

March 16, 2020 - the Spark team's individual work-from-home setups. (Adam Killick, Michelle Parise, Olsy Sorokina, Nora Young)

Looking back at the spring of 2020 when many of us suddenly found ourselves working from home, one thing is for certain: we were not prepared. All these months later, you need only hear someone say "you're on mute" to remember the tough learning curve thrust on us by our technological solutions. But for all the personal failures, there have been some big wins when it comes to how we get our work done.

Wildbit CEO Natalie Nagele (Wildbit)
"Nobody's distracting them, there's nobody walking past them, there's nobody kind of bumping into their cubicle to check in. They're really getting this work done and they can do less hours because they're able to focus so much," said Natalie Nagele in a conversation with Spark host Nora Young back in March. 

Nagele is CEO and co-founder of Wildbit, a software company anchored in remote work and a 4-day work week. As millions of Canadians started adjusting to working from home, Nagele explained why remote work has worked for them for 20 years. 

One component of that, which we might all now look forward to in the future, is a shift in management style. Instead of judging an employee by the time they spend at their desk, Nagele suggested managers focus on the quality of a person's output.

That kind of shift would mean our work days could include an afternoon run or trip to the store even after restrictions are lifted. 

"We need these natural breaks and I think what often happens in an on-premise situation is people feel obligated to sit at their desks. That's when you see someone constantly addicted to checking facebook, because they're just not giving their mind an opportunity to rest," she said, adding that without someone "breathing down your neck," it's possible to get up and take little breaks, even if it's just putting in a load of laundry.

"Whatever those things are, they're actually really good for you, those breaks, and you do better quality work," said Nagele.

A new rhythm means a new way to move in our cities

As the rhythms of our work day change, our transportation systems will need to adapt.

"I think the return to work and to how transit is used will be different. It will be there, it will be safe, it will be an option for you to take, but how we utilize that for the purposes of going back to work will be different," said David Cooper of Leading Mobility when asked about the future of public transportation in a post-COVID world. 

At the time of the interview, ridership in public transit was down 80 to 90 per cent across the country. Cooper, who advises public transit agencies on planning and policy projects, said the pandemic challenged municipalities to respond to transportation needs, and they did so with unprecedented speed.

Urban planner David Cooper (Leading Mobility)
 

"There are a lot of projects that are actually advancing much more quickly than we've ever seen, especially with pedestrian and cycling facilities...and these projects have been talked about for 15 years," said Cooper. 

Cooper expects the projects that focus on giving more options for getting around will stick after the pandemic, in part to take pressure off of costly transit services to low-density, far-out suburban locations.

"I think there's going to be opportunities with micro-mobility and new technologies to possibly help out with the first and last mile of connection in some of our suburban areas that lead into high quality, high frequent transit because the financial components and capacity that we're providing on those services will have to change," said Cooper.

In the case of those high-use stretches, Cooper also suggested that a company's decision to stagger its work times could help with issues of overcrowding on some routes. 

About that mid-day trip to the store

Our workday rhythms will also impact how we go about our shopping, including a move toward open-air spaces rather than vertically-integrated malls, a trend that Melissa Gonzales noted prior to the pandemic.

Retail strategist Melissa Gonzalez (Lion’esque Group)

"I think it's a mix of 'do I feel safe?' with also just people's time. People were really overbooked and wanting more efficient ways of interacting and shopping and so if you're in a vertically integrated mall where you need to go to the 7th floor to shop, it's a very different experience than where I can just pull into the parking lot right out front of an open air mall and I know exactly the store I want to enter and I can control what that looks like," she said.

In an interview back in May, Gonzales noted that the reliance on technology for shopping that we are experiencing during the pandemic is causing another shift that many were slow to embrace prior to lockdown.

"The adoption around mobile payments was so low before this and now we're forced into it, right? Many stores aren't accepting cash and the only way you can pay is order ahead or through your mobile device when you're there, so that's something that people are going to be conditioned to do.  They might get used to not needing their wallet or not running to their bank for cash."

And while embracing that technology has been challenging for some consumers and businesses, there is still time to get it right.

"I think there's a big push around consumers wanting to support local and small business so there's a little bit more of an acceptance and a forgiveness of 'it's not going to be perfect right now but let's try it together'. So I think that gives a really big opportunity for some of the smaller brands to try to implement these more contactless experiences," she said.

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