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PTRC Fireside Chat - The Big Return

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Join us for the 2021 - 2022 season of the PTRC Fireside Chats

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The Big Return

The big return of the PTRC Fireside Chat series for 2021-2022 gets underway with an opportunity to explore whether or not we should be expecting a ‘big return’ to the office for knowledge workers as we see COVID-19 restrictions being eased.

Along with much of humanity, knowledge workers have been in a global behaviour change experiment for around 18 months (and counting) as a result of the pandemic. Imagine, outside of a pandemic, the prospect that governments around the world implemented a fundamental system change (without years of analysis, debate and hand-wringing) that massively suppressed motorised mobility and encouraged greater reliance on digital connectivity. Even a climate crisis seems hard pressed to achieve anything like such a response. Yet in the experiment we’ve been. Armies of knowledge workers have discovered and helped evolve, first-hand, new ways of working.

So what happens to the world of knowledge work when health-related restrictions on proximity are lifted? We are in the process of finding out. Some employers have publicly signalled a scaling down of traditional office space, while others seem to be banking on a substantial bounce back.

What is very clear is that not all experiences of knowledge work during the pandemic have been equal. Each of us have our own sense of what it has meant for us, but we may be rather ignorant of what it has meant for others across a diverse society. What are the motivations that could shape the future of knowledge work, and whose motivations will exert most influence on future working patterns? There are vested interests at play and the prospect of winners and losers. Perhaps a critical question is whether or not post-COVID expectations and norms of working practices in an organisation will reflect the sum of individual workers’ preferences for how they work?

A report by McKinsey, looking at the scope for remote working, considered the notion of ‘effective potential (no productivity loss)’ of remote working levels and the ‘theoretical maximum’ for different types of job. There is a challenge in gauging how much we could continue working from home, how much we want to, and what the consequences are for our performance as knowledge workers and as human beings. And such issues may be changing over time as the digitization of knowledge work continues. An article by Deloitte called “Returning to work in the future of work” challenges organisations to seek insight from their employees and embrace, understand and shape the new dynamics of work – “Rather than shrinking from, or preparing to fight, the oncoming storm of change, they [leading organisations] draw energy from it. In the context of COVID-19, they will leverage the opportunity to return to work by designing the future of work”.

A UK survey of UK knowledge workers in February 2021 from Claromentis suggested that “almost three quarters (73%) of UK knowledge workers want a hybrid arrangement, splitting their time between home and the office” but overall statistics do not reflect the underlying distribution arising from diversity of people’s working preferences. And as the global experiment continues, who is to say preferences expressed in February hold true now or in a year’s time? At the beginning of September the Evening Standard touted ‘London’s big return: thousands pour back into the city after months of WFH’. Personal experience of the first work trip for 18 months into London at about the same time felt more modest than big!

With plans for a quarterly Fireside Chat during 2021-2022, this first 90-minute event on Thursday 21 October (12.30pm-2.00pm BST) will bring a panel of speakers together to explore the post-COVID future of knowledge work and its implications for transport. The discussion is framed by the following questions:

1. How important is the length of the behaviour change experiment imposed by COVID-19 to the new expectations and dynamics of knowledge work?

2. To what extent will the diversity of individual knowledge workers’ preferences be accounted for in, and influence, the way overall post-COVID working practices are shaped?

3. How well are the evolving consequences of new ways of working for productivity, wellbeing and travel behaviour understood, and is this a moving target?

4. How much return of business travel (as opposed to commuting) might there be amongst knowledge workers across different forms and purposes of such travel, and for what reasons?

5. With ongoing technological innovation, what possibilities for knowledge work in 2031 might there be that could be of significance to transport planning?

Please join us for what promises to be a wide-ranging and thought provoking set of exchanges. The event will be chaired by Glenn Lyons, Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility. Glenn remarks, “I went from hyper-mobile to hyper-immobile as a knowledge worker as a result of COVID-19 and I’m anxious about whether or not the changes ahead will be on my terms or on those of others; and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I’m also anxious that collectively we do not squander a golden opportunity for change that could help society socially and environmentally”.

The Big Return Fireside Chat

Panel members

Meleiha Youngs

Head of Impact – The Liftshare Group

On a mission to make Zero Carbon Commuting a reality

Meleiha has been working with the Liftshare Group for over 10 years, initially brought in to head up the client services team and lead on the successful implementation of employee car share schemes for their clients. Over the last decade, Meleiha has supported the expansion of Liftshare to become the UKs largest car sharing network, and has helped its community of car sharers to save a billion road miles. Since returning from maternity leave in 2020, Meleiha has co-created a new role for herself as Head of Impact for the group. With a relentless enthusiasm for creating positive change Meleiha’s primary focus is ensuring the group achieve against its mission to make Zero Carbon Commuting a reality in the UK.

Jonathan Bray

Director, Urban Transport Group

Jonathan has been the Director of the Urban Transport Group since 2008. He is also a visiting senior fellow at LSE Cities, a Commissioner on the Commission on Travel Demand and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation.

Jonathan’s career has been about developing progressive policies on transport and advocating effectively for them. This includes changing national policy for the better by being one of the leaders of the network which ended the hegemony of the roads lobby on national transport policy in the nineties through to winning better bus powers for transport authorities in 2017. He has also made the Urban Transport Group the place where the thinking happens on the future of urban transport as well as saved members of the Group millions through finding more cost effective ways for them to work together.

Jonathan writes about new thinking on urban transport in a regular column in Passenger Transport magazine. He is also a Director of Good Journey CIC, a member of the Transport Planning Society and a member of the UITP’s Organising Authorities Committee.

Jo Bacon

Head of Behavioural Science, UK Department for Transport

Jo is Head of Behavioural Science at the UK Department for Transport (DfT), responsible for setting up a new behavioural science function for DfT. She has headed up DfT’s Social and Behavioural Research Team, a multidisciplinary team of social researchers and behavioural scientists, since 2016. Research delivered by DfT’s Social and Behavioural Research Team covers strategic transport topics such as travel behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic, public attitudes towards decarbonisation of transport and new and emerging forms of transport. As a member of the Government Social Research profession for over 20 years, Jo has previously held social research posts at the Department for Work and Pensions and the Office for National Statistics.

Halina Jaroszewska

Compassionately ruthless guerrilla

If it was EASY for organisations to communicate perfectly, manage people superbly, be solution-focused, the entire executive coaching profession would be out of work!

Chosen by savvy high-potential leaders and top teams to challenge and inspire them to maximise potential during tough times and perform better. Want to thrive (not just survive)? Turn your uncertainty into a powerful tool for rapid growth? Simple! Choose to ‘be halina’d’.

Deciding to work with a coach is a genius investment. It involves your time, trust, and money. Remarkable results? Definitely. Trackable. Clear evidence of progress.

Clients say I really get them. ‘Being listened to a revelation. Felt heard. Felt safe. Felt empowered to find solutions to big concerns.’ ‘Being challenged about use of language means now effortlessly ace communications. Simple yet powerful actions made the difference. People notice. Chose to thrive. It works’.

National publishing company Board Director said:

🗨 “Halina’s coaching has given me real insight into my core values and behaviour, both in my and others eyes. I found practical steps to adapt my approach. Behaviours to maximise my impact as a leader. More effective as a manager. My team and colleagues certainly noticed the difference!”.

Alan Felstead

Research Professor, Cardiff University

Alan Felstead is Research Professor at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. He has a long-standing interest in homeworking which began in the mid-1990s. He has produced hundreds of publications on this and other labour market issues, including a review of the historical and contemporary evidence on the changing location of work. Remote Working: A Research Overview will be published by Routledge early in 2022. Based on his research, Professor Felstead has given oral and written evidence to policy makers, including the Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee, the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee, and the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. In 2018-2019, he sat on the Welsh Government’s Fair Work Commission and was then seconded to Welsh Government on a part-time basis in 2019-2020.


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