While the far-reaching impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic come into sharper focus, one thing is certain: the crisis is reshaping our cities, both physically and socially.
While the far-reaching impacts of the global Covid-19 pandemic come into sharper focus, one thing is certain: The crisis is reshaping our cities, both physically and socially. This includes thinking about how we work and what we value in our workplace.
Not surprisingly, these questions are of particular importance to large employers and landlords. WeWork asked Replica to be its data partner in a white paper that addresses the impact Covid-19 will have on the way we work and commute. You can read the full paper here.
Below, we’ve highlighted some of the results from the analysis we found most interesting — and how creative solutions could not only help get people back to work safely sooner but could have secondary impacts on vehicle miles traveled, greenhouse gas emissions, urban congestion, and the time people spend commuting every day.
The office will continue to be important for many companies and workers, and the benefits of an office environment — such as training, mentorship, and collaboration — remain as essential as ever.
With a viable vaccine and reliable antibody testing still likely several months away, how can we realize the upsides of an office environment while keeping employees safe and healthy? One of the most important lessons learned is that both companies and workers desire flexibility, and the office space will need to adapt.
In the CivicScience poll of the New York City metro area, 70% of respondents said they preferred an office space within walking distance of their home, and more than half — 55% — of respondents said they would feel “somewhat” or “very” uncomfortable commuting into the office before there is a vaccine for Covid-19. These preferences are reflected in the steep decline in transit ridership from pre-Covid levels, and the anticipated slow return to these modes of travel, according to commute data from Replica, an urban planning tool that helps cities answer key transportation questions.
If you knew the space would be safe, would you prefer that your office space be within walking distance of your home? To reduce commutes for employees, company footprints will need to be dispersed, spreading office locations across cities to meet people closer to home. Some call this the hub-and-spoke model, where companies and organizations have a centralized “hub” office with dispersed “spoke” offices across the city. Employers identify neighborhoods where portions of employees live and offer office spaces in each of those neighborhoods.
Meeting employees where they are will be key to making them feel comfortable returning to an office.
In Replica’s analysis, movement patterns of New York City residents revealed that when looking at WeWork locations across the city: Around one-third of New York City-based office workers — approximately 303,000 people — could be a 15-minute walk from their nearest WeWork. To identify office workers, Replica looked at workers in the following industries:
Factoring in biking expands this footprint further. Replica found that more than 58% of New York City-based office workers, approximately 565,500 people, live within a 15-minute bike ride or walk of a WeWork.
Proximity to transit hubs could also be a boon to commuters, allowing 55,763 office workers from outside the city to commute to their “office” via only a 30-minute direct commuter train and a 15-minute walk or less, or 92,344 office workers via a 90-minute direct commuter train and a 15-minute walk or less.
Looking at the boroughs individually, Replica’s analysis found that the impact is felt most heavily in Manhattan, where a staggering 379,865 individuals, making up 96% of local office workers, live within a 15-minute walk or bike ride of a WeWork office. But WeWork’s geographical footprint is not restricted to one borough. Hub-and-spoke strategies using WeWork locations could drastically cut down commutes for hundreds of thousands of Brooklyn and Queens residents: Half of all Brooklyn office workers, or 131,844 individuals, and a quarter of such workers in Queens, or 47,360 individuals, live within a 15-minute bike ride or walk of a WeWork. Given high commuting levels from these two boroughs into Manhattan, the ability to walk or bike to a local satellite office could sharply reduce commute times for many employees and help them feel safe as their companies return to the office. For office workers across all five boroughs, the median commute is nearly 7 miles.
Meanwhile, office workers within a 15-minute walk to the nearest WeWork location could cut their commute down to 1 mile. This would mean an 85% reduction in miles commuted for those workers. A dispersed footprint would also have important external benefits. Replica’s analysis showed that if the above workers used a 15-minute walk or bike ride to travel to their nearest WeWork, rather than commuting to their standard place of work, New York would see approximately 45,000 fewer car trips and 225,000 fewer vehicle miles traveled daily — over 1 million VMT per week. The change is significant for not only decreasing often-congested traffic but for improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions: A reduction in 225,000 VMT per day is approximately equivalent to cutting CO2 emissions by 448 metric tons or planting nearly 7,500 urban trees each week.
Moreover, a hub-and-spoke approach can have secondary benefits for other industries — helping neighborhood businesses recover by allowing employees to work, shop, and eat closer to home.
Time-flexible workspaces like WeWork are already set up to support the different ways different people use an office. Some want to be at an office from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to have distinct boundaries between work and home; others want to use an office because it can have a more reliable or faster internet connection, or to use high-quality printers. Each WeWork location features a unique set of amenities tailored for what workers want. This includes technological necessities like hard-wired Ethernet and access to WiFi, multifunction printers, and smart boards but also community benefits such as lunch-and-learns, networking events, and wellness sessions. Employers can leverage these amenities to set up systems that fit the unique needs of their employees and benefit the company.
Flexible workspaces are uniquely positioned to help get people back to work safely and quickly.
In the long term, these type of workspaces can provide a cost-effective way for employers to scale or downsize as needed based on employees’ keeping more flexible work schedules. These employees get to keep the benefits of collaboration, productivity, and relationship building that come with their typical office.
Further, in cases like WeWork, these flexible work approaches help support 119,000 jobs, which directly contributes $19.6 billion of gross domestic product in New York alone. That’s a win for employees, employers, and our economy.