Prior to about mid-March, we at RIDE Solutions had no doubt that our urban centers would continue to grow as important regional employment centers offering a high quality of life. We also had no reason to believe that more collective forms of transportation such as carpooling, vanpooling, transit, and bike sharing would not continue to increase in popularity within city and country, among employer and worker, alike. Then came COVID-19.
Since the middle of March, at least one-third of Americans have transitioned to telework as a means to minimize the spread of the coronavirus among themselves, their coworkers, and their families. Likewise, at RIDE Solutions, we adapted, working to provide telework resources for our clients and reminding them that they will earn points for logging their telework trips, just as they do their carpool, transit, or other green trip. We have also been promoting recreational bicycling as a means of responsible social distancing.
At the present time, as our nation very cautiously begins to reopen, some of us are returning to our workplaces, yet many of us continue to work at home, myself included. The question is, how will COVID-19 shape our society going forward? Will we quickly return to the ways we commuted and lived before the pandemic or will the fear of being in close proximity to others cause telework to stick around over the long term and perhaps even influence where we choose to live?
A recent article by Brookings, entitled Telecommuting will likely continue long after the pandemic, discusses a survey revealing that nearly 20 percent of business executives have plans for at least one of five employees to continue to telework after the pandemic, as a cost-cutting strategy. Another article published in early May by CNBC entitled More big employers are talking about permanent work-from-home positions, notes that large corporations such as Barclays, Nationwide, Mondelez (foods), and Morgan Stanley will likely embrace telework for at least some of their associates on a permanent basis, as executives have observed that productivity has not declined and that cost savings could be realized from this work arrangement. What’s more, executives are taking another look at their office inventories and concluding that more telework translates to less office space and, therefore, lower costs. Lastly, in a May 20th article in CityLab entitled How Life in Our Cities Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic, Richard Florida argues that while he believes cities will bounce back after this pandemic, it is likely that some people – particularly families and the most vulnerable – may seek life outside of cities.
What will all of this mean for our traditional urban centers? We have yet to see the picture unfold, but it can’t be disputed that between the effects of COVID-19; recent civil unrest, particularly in some of the nation’s largest cities; and the prospect of less real estate needed to conduct business, some of our nation’s larger urban centers may have to develop creative solutions to remain competitive in the future.
Perhaps the better question that needs to be asked is, how will all of these events shape our smaller communities, such as those here in the West Piedmont Planning District? Our region is comprised of numerous downtowns, but these are generally smaller and include a potpourri of places including Ferrum, Rocky Mount, Martinsville, Danville, and Chatham, among others. Many of these downtowns would likely not be affected by restructuring of corporate real estate and are not quite dense enough to warrant fears of the effects of a pandemic on the scale of New York City with its ubiquitous subway system and tight spaces.
If a significant share of the workforce continues to telework in the future, the desirability of our region could increase as a result. In addition to offering a number of smaller, walkable communities with a low cost of living, our region is within close proximity to much larger urban areas including Greensboro, Raleigh/Durham, and Charlotte; anecdotal evidence suggests, for example, that Danville is somewhat of a “bedroom community” of the Raleigh/Durham area. There is also a plethora of outdoor activities including hiking, fishing, bicycling, and more, available in our region.
Just as telework could render our region more attractive, it is likely to remain a focal point of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) well into the future, for the many reasons provided above. We at RIDE Solutions leased billboards advertising our brand as a means to “Get There Get Rewarded.” Perhaps there will be some in the future that articulate a message such as “Stay Home Get Rewarded.”
If you manage a business in our region and feel you may need additional resources to promote more effective telework among your employees, we at RIDE Solutions can help! Visit https://www.ridesolutions.org/commuters/, or feel free to contact me, Joe Bonanno, at Jbonanno@wppdc.org, or at (276) 638-3987. If your employees are currently teleworking, they can get rewarded for doing so via our FREE RIDE Solutions app, whenever they log a telework session. Please encourage them to visit www.ridesolutions.org to set up an account in just seconds!