Urban Planning

How remote work is impacting smart city development

When considering the impact of remote work, most would immediately think of changes to business operations. For instance, it would eliminate commuting to physical offices and create a more flexible workforce. However, working from home is paving a new way for how people live in communities and cities.
Research by Owl Labs shows that 92% of people expect to work remotely at least one day per week after the pandemic. More companies are shifting to working from home for all employees even as COVID-19 eases. The increase in work-from-home opportunities will reshape the workforce and impose new strategies on urban centers worldwide.

Remote work and smart city development

Remote work will certainly impact where people do their jobs, but it also affects the use of the city’s infrastructure and services. A physical office becomes even less important. However, as cities need to attract digital workers, they must deliver better quality of life for residents when crafting smart city strategies.

Smart cities are focused on adding smart devices, sensors and systems to collect data, but there’s more to it than that. It’s also about using the available technology and information to implement better decisions for all residents.

Remote workers seem to be enjoying the current situation that allows flexible work anywhere. However, as they work from home, employees are forced to merge their personal and work lives, which can take a mental toll. Smart cities will allow digital workers several benefits:

  • Ease of local community integration
  • Activities that are fun and educational
  • A good health care system
  • Accessible information
  • Digital services and communications with public institutions

Digitization would be the core factor since cities aim to attract more remote workers to support the local economy.

Anticipated developments of smart cities post-pandemic

The working-from-home economy has its challenges and benefits. There has been a massive transition to remote work, and numerous midsized cities in the U.S. are expanding incentive programs to attract these employees. This potential expansion will bring new opportunities to smart city developments and infrastructure.

Here are a few developments to anticipate in the future.

Digitizing energy storage

Creating a sustainable and durable future for remote workers is at the forefront of smart city objectives. One area of focus will be how society can build a solid infrastructure and operate more efficiently.

Texas is one example. Many cities in this state have experienced mass power outages. They have the opportunity to invest and digitize energy storage to support the increased needs of the grid. The development of smart cities requires investments in smart energy management, such as battery storage, to meet the rising demands of energy efficiency.

Internet of Things (IoT)  infrastructure effectively leverages distributed energy resources to provide grid services. However, it requires investments in electric distribution control systems. Furthermore, it will be vital to prioritize the transformation of the electrical management system as cities determine how to manage these operations.

Network infrastructure upgrade

Cities are working to improve citizen services by investing in digital infrastructure. Some of the markets are seeing a surge in interest for specific uses, including:

  • Safe transportation, such as roadways, intersections and mass transit
  • Cybersecurity of internet access for students and remote workers
  • Remote facility and monitoring to ensure a safe return to work

Another example would be upgrading public transportation to offer digital connectivity and enhance the transit experience. Cities will have to invest and upgrade their network infrastructure for more reliable connectivity, security and management.

Industrial parks with low-rise buildings

City center growth is stalling, given that the workforce has shifted into remote work with the pandemic. Employees who worked in city office buildings have moved to telecommunications. The loss of a physical presence cut the total daily spending at restaurants, bars and local shops.

An upsurge in working from home will create a boom for suburbs and rural areas. Smart cities are considering halving the density of offices, leading to an increased demand for office space. Moreover, there may no longer be a need to build more skyscrapers. Instead, there could be a dramatic shift for industrial parks and low-rise buildings.

Building for the future

One survey revealed that 65% of city officials believe smart cities programs will be imperative for the future. However, smart cities will have to start with people first, not technology. Officials need a plan to develop a better quality of life, including sustainability and security, to see success.

Transparency and communication with citizens will be key for all these developments to happen. The first step for smart cities is to open data initiatives and enable a transparent system. The city’s information will need to be accessible to everyone. This will empower individuals and companies to make smart decisions and play a more active role in shaping cities’ overall performance.

Written by: Zachary Amos
Header image: Chaay-Tee

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