Evolving Transportation Planning to Reflect Acceleration of Telework

Are your Long Range Plan and STIP/TIP plans reflective of a changing future?
Remote Work

[10 minute read]

COVID-19 has drastically changed how people work and live during the pandemic. Corporate adoption of remote work or telework significantly accelerated. And we predict the trend will last long after the pandemic is over – with far reaching consequences for the future of cities and transportation planning.

As planners envision the future of transportation infrastructure in Long Range Plans and TIP/STIP, it’s critical to consider how the nature of work and living are changing, and ensure that infrastructure programs will adapt to support the changing needs of local communities.

Mass Remote Work Has Been A Surprising Success for Employers and Employees During Pandemic

With 46% of American businesses having implemented remote work policies as of mid-February -– the mass transition to remote work during COVID-19 has proven surprisingly successful for employers and employees.

Employers with primarily knowledge workers reported no hit to productivity levels and in fact – in some cases saw increases in worker productivity due commute time savings.

Historically, the biggest barriers to remote work for employers were 1) risk of lower productivity, and 2) technology enablement. With the first concern eliminated, and many tech companies like Zoom rising to alleviate the second issue – many employers are finally ready to implement remote work at scale at last.

Furthermore, decreased resistance from managers, substantial savings on real-estate costs and lower-cost hiring in remote locations are additional reasons that companies especially in knowledge economies will find the benefits of remote work far too great to ignore.

For some employees, while telework was challenging during the pandemic especially with closure of childcare centers, most experienced benefits including commute time savings and more casual work environments. In the long-run, a majority of employees believe the pandemic will permanently change the nature of how they work according to a global survey from Salesforce Research:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following related to your career?

Source: Salesforce Research COVID-19 Global Survey

Significantly Accelerated Adoption of Telework to Drive Greater Migration to Suburbs and Lower-Cost Cities

In response, more employees in cities may take advantage of moving to suburbs where they can find more affordable, larger housing because their longer commute happens less frequently now if at all.

National real estate broker Redfin has already seen this buyer trend playing out during May in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some employees will make bigger moves to lower-cost cities, rural locations close to nature, or even lower-cost countries as full-remote provides literally a world of relocation opportunities.

For employers, more will transition from establishing a monolithic single headquarter with large footprint, to a network of satellite office hubs across cities hosting concentrations of employees.

Transportation Planners Should Re-Evaluate Infrastructure and Development Programs

For transportation planners in high-cost cities, there’ll be added risk in over-designing expensive downtown facilities. Instead, there may be a greater need for suburban developments with large multi-story buildings, and robust commercial centers to support a greater portion of people’s workweeks spent at home .

Less commuting will produce lower congestion during peak periods, which leads to less vehicle emissions and lower toll/gas tax revenues. While the former is a pleasant benefit, the latter requires creative planning earlier on to identify sources of new replacement funding to ensure long-term infrastructure viability. Cities weighing the merits of congestion pricing models may also need to re-evaluate projected revenue scenarios.

In smaller cities and towns expecting greater migration inflows, planners may want to consider strengthening long-distance commute infrastructure to create greater appeal for workers who need to travel to company headquarters farther away.    

Be Prepared to Meet More Evolving Needs

In addition to telework, there are other trends accelerated by the pandemic that will have long-lasting consequences for city and transportation planning. These include the acceleration of e-commerce, e-grocery and restaurant delivery, as well as changes to methods of learning and people’s preferences for transportation modes that will shape the future of infrastructure.

The key to understand and meet evolving community needs is to keep a close pulse on what’s happening. Luckily, there are more technology solutions available today than ever to help transportation planners engage the public, communicate a compelling story, solicit feedback and gather useful datapoints about meaningful trends taking hold in the communities they serve.

Here at EcoInteractive, we’re working with transportation planners on a daily basis to address their evolving needs by leveraging modern cloud technologies. We are privileged to continue supporting transportation planning agencies, and would welcome any questions or comments to help better serve transportation planners.

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