In the scheme of history, cities are a recent phenomena. And while the 9-5, five-day work week seemed set in stone, it too is a relative blip courtesy of the industrial age. In many ways this compulsorily synchronised way of working was quite alienating for the human organism. It forced people to conform into artificial hierarchical structures, breaking down the natural order and depriving people of dignity and choice.
It’s also an idea that’s about 30 or 40 years out of date. Collectively we’ve failed to take full advantage of advances in technology and it’s only the pandemic that has spurred the mass adoption of remote or mobile working. But it’s presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reprogram the industrial age city into an information age city. A city that revolves around the 2.5-day working week.
When we talk about cities, we don’t just mean central business districts, which is where much of the post-pandemic discussion has focussed. If the shift to two or three days from the office is a permanent shift, we need to look at reprogramming our entire city networks and even beyond.
Rather than reducing our reliance on existing infrastructure, this reprogramming means greater utilization over an extended timeframe – at a rate that is significantly more sustainable. With individual 2.5-day working weeks overlapping and even spanning all 24 hours, the artificial peak of the 9-5 working day is now spread across seven days. People will increasingly use the city for activities like dining and entertainment, inevitably changing the composition and focus.
This means that transport routes will change, peak times will encompass more of the day, and the way we use space will change. It also means the CBD will become richer places of human activities lose supremacy as hubs form as will rural towns and suburban locations, offering people the opportunities to network and collaborate outside the home without commuting to the city.
The rise and rise of the user experience
Further changes will include shopping centres and office buildings moving away from the binary models that see investment aspects dominating and towards actual use and end-user considerations.
But if even the best-designed office building is still just attracting employees two or three days per week, a rewriting of organisational cultures will be needed to accommodate the mix of people working online and in-person.
And from a space perspective, does this mean organisations design their offices for the days that the highest proportion of people are on site? Or do they mandate an even spread of attendance to avoid effectively using space for just two days out of a seven-day lease? This will be an ongoing tension between viable asset utilization and organizational culture.
A smarter mix
If culture wins, it sounds the death knell for the 1960s style single-use buildings in favour of more diverse building typologies – a trend that predates the pandemic.
We’ve seen this in places like Collins Arch, a development that included a hotel, residential and offices to create an ‘around the clock’ community to renew an under-utilized part of Melbourne. Or a place like NAB Docklands at 700 Bourke Street, where Woods Bagot centred the community space outside the security zone to normalise easy engagement between customers, the community and the bank.
Countless words have been written since 2020 about the changing workplace, but it’s important to look at the cities in which these workplaces sit and what the changes mean more broadly. The 2.5 working day city might just be the next evolution of the city, a natural progression of humanity and the sophistication of society.