The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the opportunities for mobile work
TRACTR offers flexibility to the new working environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable a society can be. The economic and social impact is already huge. Although the conditions are totally exceptional, even during home quarantine, people try to work and live as normally as they can. Quarantine and social distancing have been able to slow the spread of the coronavirus in many cases, but it is still impossible to predict when the pandemic will end and what its ultimate consequences will be. The coronavirus is disrupting societies in a significant way and changing the way we live and work. After the first wave of the epidemic there can be second or multiple waves, pushing us to balance working with the waves of recovery. However, societies should return to functioning as normally as possible, but in a new predictable, accessible and adaptable working environment.
From social density to social distancing. Boston-based coworking space NGIN has been emptied of users as a result of the corona epidemic. As a TRACTR customer, NGIN is developing a new type of multi-location Distributed Workplace model for new working environments.
Distributed workplace will support new ways of working
The COVID-19 pandemic has already revolutionised the way we work. Around the world, workplaces and office buildings are virtually closed, and with social distancing, people in knowledge work positions in particular are working mobile. The benefits of multi-location mobile working, i.e., teleworking both at home and elsewhere, have become increasingly apparent. Both employees and organisations have found that interactions and workflows can still be carried relatively smoothly over the network, wherever people are. Emerging technologies will make multi-location teleworking even smoother in the future.
Society and organisations should be more capable of adapting to unexpected changes in the future. For example, in the real estate sector, existing rigid and independent solutions that emphasise internal efficiency do not work in the best possible way. Many organisations have traditionally operated independently and managed their own premises; however, during a state of emergency, such as a pandemic, they are largely unavailable for working.
Haukilahti High School has been implemented in a network as a school-as-a-service solution. Instead of one centralised school building, schooling takes place in many places, utilising Aalto University’s campus facilities. As a consequence of this adaptable network model, the number of students in the school has almost doubled.
Distributed workplace means more choice for employers and employees
TRACTR has developed a flexible solution for managing distributed workplace. It means the possibility for organisations to use both their own internal spaces together with external spaces in a local network. Such a flexible use of accessible resources enables companies to react faster to changing situations and to have a more sustainable operating model in the use of space. Companies can manage and balance the social density when returning from situations like the current pandemic, to the so-called new normal situation. TRACTR helps them to identify places on the network where the occupancy rate is lower and, following social distancing rules, to suggest premises with safer conditions to their workers.
The innovativeness of the TRACTR solution is how it enables the connection of separate facilities into a distributed workplace on an interoperable platform. Work environments have traditionally been defined internally, but the distributed network solution allows any work environment to be extended to its external surroundings, using resources available and accessible outside the organisation. The key feature of the distributed workplace is its flexibility, i.e. the organisation can choose what kind of internal or external facilities are needed at any given time. It also means cost-effectiveness because the on demand pay-per-use cost structure. With the help of TRACTR tools, the use of a company’s internal resources, i.e., its various facilities, can be also flexibly extended to the distributed facilities and services available in other organisations. This also allows all companies to focus on more efficient space solutions in their own environments.
The work is currently done mainly in in-home environments made possible by different technologies. Here is the TRACTR team with Montreal Living Lab in a weekly meeting.
TRACTR's co-founder, Jarmo Suominen, calls this multi-locational Distributed Work environment an application of platform economy in the real estate industry: ‘Platform economy can be considered simply from the perspective of the old village community. Whereas in the past it was possible for people to share goods and spaces by knowing each other, today the same is possible with the help of digital platforms. Über and Airbnb operate on the platform economy business model and have become popular precisely because technology has enabled a new kind of sharing of services and facilities, as well as people-to-people contacts. However, the difference between TRACTR and the above-mentioned platforms is that, while many of those existing platforms are for consumers, the TRACTR platform is designed for business-to-business use.’
The TRACTR tools can be used to manage multi locational work environment
During the coronavirus pandemic, more and more offices are either fully closed, or only partially open as their use is heavily regulated. However, it is difficult for people to find and predict suitable locations to work if they are unfamiliar with such places in their surroundings. There is also no real-time information on the capacity of these facilities, meaning users can not predict how congested they are. To help with social distancing, it would be important information that would enable workers to stay further away from each other. However, it is difficult for them to know in advance how many people there are at the new place. TRACTR's capacity model makes it possible to monitor actual office capacity. During a pandemic, like the one we are living today, the utilisation rates can be lowered or adjusted to make the work space safe.
TRACTR is developing a simulation for distributed and multi-locational working environment for Kendal Square in Cambridge, USA with the City Science Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
‘User density can be managed by recommending to users places where there aren’t many people at the moment. This is done by utilizing a large number of now independent workplaces in the urban areas, such as hotels, coworking spaces or cafes. The providers can also offer places through their own channels where social distancing can be secured,’ says Suominen. In the post-epidemic period, on the other hand, the utilisation rate can be increased according to the same logic. As a first step, TRACTR gathers providers of secure remote workplaces into its own web-based interface. Tools are also being developed for telecommuting operators to manage their own offerings, track customer numbers and update offer content. ‘Service providers get customers through this but can still control the number of employees.’
In Canada, TRACTR is partnering with MONTREAL LIVING LAB (MLL) to manage shared spaces available in a government building, a university research centre and a downtown Montreal office tower. MLL reaches to flexible workspace managers in cities, suburbs and country towns.
We adapt to change by reacting
Economist Peter Drucker has written that change itself is not problematic but that the logic of reaction is: ‘The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.’ Responsiveness and operational flexibility are prerequisites for adapting to change. Jarmo Suominen agrees: ‘The current pandemic has an immediate impact on the way we use our environment. It is easier to react to this with adaptable network solutions than with a decoupled portfolio of independent entities,’ he sums up.
Jarmo Suominen, Chief Creative Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Original article: Hannu Pöppönen