The transport sector has an opportunity to take the lead when it comes to offering flexible and hybrid working helping to improve wellbeing and address carbon reduction. The recent CIHT roundtable, sponsored by Autodesk, explored the potential of technology, digital transformation and decarbonisation to help the transport sector into new ways of working.
Join other savvy professionals just like you at CIHT. We are committed to fulfilling your professional development needs throughout your career
The ‘work from home where possible’ directive from governments as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has led organisations around the world to rapidly adapt to new ways of working. Many people have got used to working from home, jumping from one Teams or Zoom call to another whilst balancing books on laptops to create makeshift home offices. Meanwhile on construction sites, safe operating procedures implemented rapidly into the pandemic meant that highways works were able to carry out on site in safe ways.
But as restrictions lift, what world of work might we re-emerge into? More importantly, what world of work do we want to create following this global experiment in home working? This was the subject of a recently held CIHT roundtable run in partnership with Autodesk.
As with many things there have been both positive and negative experiences felt by people having to work in different ways during the pandemic. The panel of experts reported from their experiences they had heard that there was, in general terms, an improvement in employee wellbeing. This improved wellbeing was from capturing lost time: time no longer spent commuting for hours, time now spent having dinner with family, more sleep. For others there were significant downsides such as isolation and loneliness and a sense that that free time was soon captured by ever increasing work tasks.
But for many it did mean missing that human contact, the water cooler conversations, that is so beneficial in forming and maintaining positive working relationships; for people joining organisations this loss was acute. And if we ask people now: what pattern of work do they want going forward, the consensus among the panel appeared to be some form of hybrid or flexible working.
The panel agreed it is essential to not lose the well-being benefits reported by people who had experienced the feeling of a greater balance in their working lives.
And as people think about what it means to begin the return to offices after such a long period of time working from home, what should employers do to support them returning? The idea of the office as a ‘destination’ was supported. And as people return to the office it will be about that face-to-face collaboration; offices need to be designed to allow that to happen. But people will still want quiet spaces for work. Training on how to use new technologies is vital.
People can’t be expected to just ‘pick up’ new technology without support. This can lead to diverse capabilities with these technologies. A bit of training upfront would help address that.
Matthew Cole, Amey
Emotional intelligence is important to ensure that leaders understand the needs of all their staff, and although they might personally prefer home working, they need to recognise that their team members prefer face-to-face engagement.
It is also about a compromise where “Individuals recognise their presence is important for others, and for their team.
Sally Scott, Skanska
Often site office spaces don’t even have different toilet facilities for males/females, let along enough space for a creative, collaborative ‘destination’ workspace.
When we think about future work spaces, we need to think about everyone in our industry and not just people within our main offices.
Sally Scott, Skanska
Employers are using that message from employees desire to work from home as not just an opportunity to reimagine the office as a destination (and one that will need to cater for effective hybrid meetings where people who connect remotely do not feel excluded), but can fulfil other wider objectives.
I believe hybrid working will stick….pre-covid we were three to four days in the office, we expect this will shift to two to three days in the office on average.
Matthew Wherry, WSP
Less people coming into an office means there is less office space required. But this change means wider things change, with lower levels of commuting are carbon emissions from transport likely to fall?
The question of how we travel for work and linking this to achieving reductions in carbon emissions is now firmly on the table. As people have effectively worked and collaborated virtually, employers can now ask the question: do you really need to travel for that meeting? One panel member said they have departmental carbon budgets, and this is likely to reduce business flights for meetings. If you can meet effectively remotely, is there still a need to get on a plane for that meeting?
The governments levelling up manifesto commitment is firmly on the political agenda. Should the economic argument to invest in a factory in a deprived area as opposed to an affluent area be given greater economic weight and support from government? Certainly, time to travel for work that cannot be undertaken at home should be borne in mind when it comes to answering that question. One participant suggested that if investments in new factories was allocated to deprived areas of the country, then parents can be more at home if commuting time was reduced. The concept of levelling up expanded to how job opportunities may not be so location-dependent in the future also.
If you look at job postings, it is much more common to now see employers offer home working, particularly in London. I believe this presents an opportunity as far as the levelling up agenda. An additional benefit has been that increased remote working has enabled clients to identify staff with more ease as they cast the net wider, while those in areas where there has been less opportunity for employment have been able to find roles with more ease. The benefit to our clients is they’ve been much more agile in their hiring and as a result, more able to deliver their projects.
Blayne Cahill, Carrington West
With virtual working, barriers within organisation and across geographies were overcome. The panel noted that teams were working together with other teams that they traditionally would not have worked with. Technology can also be an attractor for people entering the sector; by using BIM, 3D modelling and design, the sector can draw in new talent. Additionally, technology has the potential to support the equality and diversity agenda; an example can be to turn your camera off during interviews to overcome unconscious bias.
When the pandemic hit almost overnight larger customers started working together across geographically dispersed, including international, areas. We will be able to tackle our projects in a different way. We can bring people together, irrespective of their physical location…and that will enable us to work better.
Marek Suchocki, Autodesk
One of the main components for effective home working is technology and crucially in areas where there is poor quality broadband this can be another demonstration of exclusion. Investing in telecommunications is an investment in transport as it enables conversations and communication and can deliver knowledge without physical constraints.
The construction industry has been slow to embrace digital ways of working and the cost of not investing needs to be addressed. It is likely that organisations who were not suitably digitally enabled will have suffered at the start of the lockdown in March 2020 and had to rapidly adapt to support the use of new technology. However, barriers to embedding technology in the highways and transport sector still exist with procurement cited as one of the reasons for this by the panel.
We need to embrace the revolution that has taken place in our sector. Digital transformation is here to stay…. technology gives us so much opportunity: we are running to stay still.
Marek Suchocki, Autodesk
Technology can help avoid problems, in particularly, delays with infrastructure projects. However, the use of technology, especially between clients and the supply-chain, requires trust. The collaboration of technology increasingly relies on cloud computing platforms.'
Having visibility of the information and at the right time is critical. If there is a connected workflow, with one single platform-that is where we can see issues being reduced and this will reduce delays. Client and contractor trust is vital
Caroline Shaw, Autodesk
In many ways, the pandemic has forced change on our lives, but the lessons for the transport profession are fundamental and far reaching, with people and organisations asking the question: why we travel?
In this regard the benefits of face-to-face communication particularly for collaborative work tasks was highlighted. Humans are a social species and often work provides a rich source of social interaction and connection for people.
People who found themselves working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic also had the opportunity to explore more of their local neighbourhoods. As a consequence of this perhaps the idea of the 15-minute city gained traction. One idea raised in the discussion was reusing existing buildings to become local workspaces for people to meet. The consequences of COVID-19 for how we work and how we travel will continue to evolve, but employers need to be supportive to their staff and ensuring that we can capture some positives from such a catastrophic event.
We don’t want to create too many rules…we are saying there isn’t a rule book but saying. We need to create this together…to work with people to ensure it works for everyone.
The opportunity to reimagine how we work and interact as a species is on the cards, as is the more existential question of how, as a sector, we respond to the climate crisis.
Decarbonisation has not been a core focus today, but it is a key plank. Given transport is still in the dock on emissions, I would suggest we need to be an exemplar to society.
Neil Johnstone, CIHT Vice President
Autodesk is a Knowledge Partner of CIHT's Partnerships Network. If you are interested in CIHT's partnership opportunities and the chance to put your brand at the heart of the key discussions, contact Sally Devine at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07963 934892.