Re-imagining Working Space in the Cities of Tomorrow

<div class="at-above-post addthis_tool" data-url=""></div>I spent more than eight years working in multinational companies. I used to be proud when I would tell my friends that I am in the office...

I spent more than eight years working in multinational companies. I used to be proud when I would tell my friends that I am in the office around 14 hours a day, everyday. It would make me feel my work is important and relevant therefore I am as well. Eventually I gave it up and became an entrepreneur and freelancer. When I started my small business I didn’t know what to expect; however, I did not expect to have a lot of free time. But, thankfully, I did. And so I discovered the beauty of late mornings with long chats over coffee, of home-cooked food, of seeing a movie after lunch or doing groceries when there are only a handful of people in the supermarket. I also discovered it takes a lot of effort and self-control to do your tasks, respect deadlines and achieve your goals. It was not easy; at the same time, it was so worth it. Now, I can’t imagine going back to a 9 to 5 job but I do want to go back to working in a big organisation. So how would my ideal workplace look like?

Firstly, it would be in a new type of urban setting.

Currently, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. According to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) between now and 2025, the world’s urban population will grow by 65 million people a year, or almost 179,000 every day. Urban centers attract businesses and the myriad of economic opportunities makes people move closer to it.

However, most of the cities face a difficult challenge trying to adapt to this population influx and more often than not, their infrastructure falls short – in terms of transport, public facilities, housing, and so on. And even if they have the will to make improvements, they don’t always have the capital.

A new urban setting will have no more office buildings, no more business centers, but residential areas and green spaces, throughout the city, with maybe just scattered small offices.

Lower real-estate costs will allow businesses to invest more in innovation. With more available space, the cost of housing will go down and a higher percentage of population will afford decent shelter, which will positively impact the quality of life. Transport infrastructure will no longer be overused, allowing for less energy spent and less pollution.

Secondly, it would make full use of  technology. 

Technology is also growing rapidly, and so is its access. In 2014 there were 2.8 billion internet users with a 39% population penetration. 5.2 billion people are mobile phone users or 73% population penetration, and 40% of these use smart phones. Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company, predicts that, by 2018, more than 50 percent of users will go to a tablet or smartphone first for all online activities. Communicating was never easier and accessible to all regardless of income levels.

A new work space will be in a world with virtual offices, where people are all connected through internet and mobile phones but from the comfort of their own home or favorite coffee shop, without having to commune for more than 10 minutes.

Women will be able to fully participate in this new market place. Despite the fact parental leave is becoming more usual, women are still the main caregivers and often they have to choose to give up or put a pause on their careers. But in this new setting, they would be able to have a board meeting in their living room and then go out and play for a couple of minutes with their toddlers.

Lastly, the value of one’s work would be based on results and not time spent in the office.

Time should be an asset that belongs to employees and not employers. They would trust their staff to manage their workload and to achieve the expected results without checking the time in and out of the office. The employees would be evaluated and compensated based on outputs and not tasks performed nor time spent in the office.

Everybody would be able to adapt their work schedule to their own or their families’ daily rhythm and, more importantly, they won’t waste time on commuting or on waiting in a queue to enter the elevator.

Shared working spaces are starting to emerge, also flexible work arrangements, but companies are taking their time to re-design their processes and systems and the way they think about and look at human resources. However, it is a fact that the next generation is mobile, technology savvy and doesn’t like to follow norms or to be stuck in restrictive spaces. In order to attract this workforce, businesses will have to accelerate the changing of their mind-set.

Local governments should look at how they can re-define the urban space instead of growing it to answer demand. Together with private and public sector actors, they have the power to shape more accessible, family-friendly and energy-smart cities.

The New Urban Agenda will be discussed next year at Habitat 3 Conference in Quito, Ecuador.  

Irina Asaftei

Currently based in the Philippines, Irina is an international development professional with experience in non-profit and private sectors in Romania, Uganda, Singapore and the UK. Her interests lie around market-based solutions as a way of addressing human rights issues, with a focus on gender equality, access to health, and adequate housing. She holds an MBA on International Organizations Management from the University of Geneva.
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