The Home, The Office and The City: What the pandemic has taught us

September 10, 2020 1:40 PM

The new normal should usher in a new City Collaborative which is representative of its citizens and understands the exponential potential of cities as talent magnets.

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In the past spaghetti westerns were known for their sweeping widescreen long shots and intimate close-ups. This year the pandemic is causing widespread destruction littered with pain and grief in the lives of ordinary people across the globe.

We are living with the virus in India since March 2020. Six months have passed. The lockdowns have turned our homes into offices. Initially, the cities just froze and became silent. Bustling cities overnight became ghost towns. We became acutely aware of the changes in our life. The smog was lifted. The noise came down. Traffic was no longer a four-letter word. The blue replaced the grey.

As time went, we realized that the virus is an amazing teacher. Every passing day it taught us new lessons in adaptability and resilience. The norms which we took for granted in society changed overnight. Who could have imagined that social distancing will one day become a cure? We survived without schools, cinema halls, malls, and public transport. The temples, the mosques, and the churches remain empty. The harmless birthday parties also were not spared.

Today we know how our cities are run more than ever before. The lockdown saga has taught city planning to all. We have realized how cities affect our physical and mental health. Food security, health infrastructure, employment dynamics, traffic implications, migrant labor, law and order, all have come to the forefront. The virus hopefully has given a refresher course to our city fathers.

Essentially it is our cities that bind our homes with our workplaces. It is that invisible cytoplasm that connects all the dots in our lives. The pandemic today is telling us that we cannot afford to think in isolation. Our cities need to be more efficient, more securer, and smarter very fast. Our institutions, our offices, our shops, and our homes are all part of the same urban fabric.

So where are we heading? It is obvious now that the future workplace will no longer be limited to the office. Employees will be working remotely and the office too. The early euphoria of work from home in all probability will settle down to barter between remote working and office. The home necessarily may not be the preferred remote working location. The possibility of neighbourhood work cafes cropping up exponentially is real. The challenge for employers going forward is to create protocols by which they can keep their workforce collaborative, committed, and productive in both online and offline mode.

While we find new ways to work, it is essential that we use this opportunity to understand how to make the City better. It is time now to think of collaboration on a city level and not limited to individual organizations. Public health and safety is the duty of every responsible citizen. The quality of city governance in the future can be a crucial differentiator. Large organizations, institutional bodies, and residential associations all need to participate in future city councils. Public-private partnerships between governing bodies and the right technology partners to accelerate this process can be a good start in these times.

In India, we have built extremely ugly cities without any disciplined planning approach. We revel in the chaos we create daily in our cities. Smart Cities remain a mirage till now. Let us not again fall prey to indifference to the way our cities function. We can use this crisis to bring in fresh ideas and solutions so that our cities are cleaner and efficient. If the concerned authorities do not act now, it might be too late tomorrow. We do not get a chance every day to start on a clean slate. The virus is making people aware of what ails our cities. Pollution, traffic, healthcare, law and order, and commute are the key areas that need to be addressed. The new normal should usher in a new City Collaborative which is representative of its citizens and understands the exponential potential of cities as talent magnets.

(By Arnab Ghosh, National Director-Fit-out, Colliers International India)

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