Living where you work: is teleworking really the future of cities?

As a second lockdown begins in France, will the city of tomorrow be the city of teleworkers? Nothing is less certain. In March-April 2020, more than a third of French workers were forced to experiment telecommuting but only 50% said they were satisfied at the end of the lockdown, and only 9% of French people would be ready to switch to full-time telecommuting. Many reasons were put forth: the blurring of boundaries between professional and personal life, cramped housing, an increase in gender inequality… For many working people, the slogan of the next world is not “I don’t have to go to the office anymore” but rather “come by my house, I live… in my office”.

It is true that telecommuting means the end of rush hour: farewell, traffic jams! For some people, it also means the possibility of leaving big cities and moving to a mid-sized town with cheaper housing. But those choices are not available to everyone: telecommuting is not applicable to many jobs, as seen with those who were on the frontline during the first lockdown. While teleworking removes the need to commute, the time saved by not going to the office may be used to travel to do something else, such as visiting friends. This is called the rebound effect: it eliminates trips related to the home-to-work commute but replaces them largely with other trips.

However, this does not mean giving up the idea of living and working in the same place. In the city of tomorrow, we will talk about workplaces in the plural form: home, office but also mixed spaces such as co-working spaces. And, for those who will go to the office, rush hours are not a foregone conclusion. The French city of Toulouse recently experimented with a pilot program between companies, mobility operators and elected officials to spread out peak hours and share home-to-work commutes. In short, working together… to work better.

→ This op-ed is an excerpt from recent chronicles by Cécile Maisonneuve, broadcast on France Info: find all broadcasts (in French) here.

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La Fabrique de la Cité is a think tank dedicated to urban foresight, created by the VINCI group, its sponsor, in 2010. La Fabrique de la Cité acts as a forum where urban stakeholders, whether French or international, collaborate to bring forth new ways of building and rebuilding cities.

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