Redefining movement in a Covid-19 era

04 Jun 2020

Kate Stannard

As we enter a new level of lockdown, it’s a good time to look at how we will redefine concepts like commuting and travel in the future.

My four year old made me cry with laughter this week. Our new Covid-19 lockdown ritual is to have daily (nonalcoholic) G n Ts on my balcony in the evening before dinner. I asked him how his G n T was, to which to replied, “Hmm, it tastes like being on the podium”. As his father is an avid cyclist who sometimes makes the podium, this really made me laugh, and it also made me think. No one has felt the feeling of being on the podium for months, nor the joy of watching others ascend the podium (from the couch).
 
We may not see a cyclist on a podium again for a while, but it does appear as if people are starting to move. This is well illustrated in the chart below, from Apple. It depicts people putting requests for directions into their devices and has been rising globally.

Apple mobility trends

Apple mobility trends
Source: Apple
I believe this pandemic will create new shifts in that movement. It has been said that new habits are formed after 40 days and we have passed that point in this lockdown. Most clients and friends I have spoken to in our industry have managed to work quite successfully (parenting demands aside) remotely. Zoom or Webex meetings have replaced the in-person meetings. Our premarket opening daily meeting for example can easily be attended via this method of communication.
Do you require as much office space as before if employees can work successfully from home?
Will this mean greater flexibility post Covid-19? If you do not need to be in the office at 8am but can rather wait for the traffic to subside, you can easily add two useful hours to your day if you are one of the many who live outside the city centres: hours which could be used more effectively for work or family. Do you require as much office space as before if employees can work successfully from home? Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey told his employees this month that many of them will be allowed to work from home in perpetuity, even after the coronavirus pandemic ends. Would people move out of the centers, closer to nature for example, if they didn’t need to be in the office from 8 to 5?
 
This week Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg offered his staff the opportunity to work from home on a permanent basis. Zuckerberg expects half of Facebook’s workforce to take up the offer of working from home permanently over the next five to 10 years. The move gives employees the chance to relocate, but their salaries would be adjusted according to living costs.
 
Being stuck at home seems to have inspired some people in the US to move. Requests to see homes on sale are now 17% above their pre Covid-19 peak.

Seasonally-Adjusted Homebuyer Demand Index

Seasonally Adjusted Homebuyer Demand Index graph
I believe technology can improve life quality and we do not always use it as effectively as we could. Imagine for example if everyone put their destinations into Apple or Google maps every time they traveled? This would allow the algorithms to optimise traffic flow and congestion.
 
We are seeing tentative signs of air travel resuming. Southwest Airlines announced more bookings than cancelations last week and Easyjet said it would resume a small number of flights in the UK and France on 15 June after grounding its entire fleet on 30 March (with increased safety measures on board including mandatory masks). However, now that we have become accustomed to Zoom and Webex meetings, will we use technology to be more efficient and perhaps travel less for business? Could more businesses become location agnostic?
The World Economic Forum last week reported that Covid-19 could spark a cycling revolution in the UK, where 14 million people may choose their bikes over their cars.
Another transport shift which may occur is bicycle usage because of public transport being halted or discouraged amid fears of the virus.  The World Economic Forum last week reported that Covid-19 could spark a cycling revolution in the UK, where 14 million people may choose their bikes over their cars.
 
This change is supported by more than £2 billion in government funding to develop emergency infrastructure such as pop-up cycle lanes. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as an opportunity for a golden age in cycling. Meanwhile UK cycling chief Julie Harrington said, “Our country is undoubtably at a crossroads, and we now face a stark choice between the old routine of cars, congestion and pollution or a new future of healthy streets, happy people and cleaner air.”
 
A recent survey reported that 28% of the UK’s adult population cycle less than once per month, but would like to do so more often. It also claims that increasing cycling to 25% of all journeys in the country by 2050 could provide over £42 billion of economic benefit. It estimates that increasing cycling per urban dweller by an average of 3km per day and walking by 1km, would save the NHS £17 billion over the next 20 years.
 
It may seem paradoxical, but not being able to exercise during lockdown might inspire people to get fitter and into nature more, once they can do so. Perhaps people will aim to get onto the podium themselves rather than watch the podium ceremony from the couch. This may be a stretch, but there will be behavioural changes after Covid-19 and I am intrigued to see them unfold.