Work on the move – how home office, co-working etc. are transforming urban mobility

Feb 10, 2021

It is not just since the coronavirus pandemic that our work of work has been changing dramatically. Digitalization, globalization and individualization are just three of many aspects challenging mobility in our cities.

Driving to work in the morning, spending eight to ten hours in the office or at work and then driving back home again in the evening, often in your own car: for decades, that was standard for most employees. Accordingly, our larger cities adapted themselves to those needs, following the model of the car-friendly city. But the increase in work-related traffic on four wheels has now brought our cities to the brink of collapse.

Intelligent infrastructure for the city

The good news is that, for a few years now, the work of work has been changing. Between 2018 and 2020, the number of co-working spaces in Germany increased by a factor of over four – from 300 to more than 1,200. It is developments in society, above all, that account for this: for example, the new, young generation of employees brings with it a heightened need for individuality and flexibility. They view the ability to work outside conventional time windows and spaces as something desirable. The coronavirus pandemic has simply accelerated these new ways of working: at the latest since the first lockdown, home office has become the default for around a quarter of all workers – and for some of them, it’s likely to stay that way. After all, that’s how some employers see it too: according to a German Economic Institute (IW) survey, around one-third of companies are looking to facilitate greater home office working in future. At the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK Berlin), the assumption is that in future around half of all companies will be looking to a hybrid model balancing in-office and home office.

Urban transport planning therefore needs to adapt accordingly. What does the urban transport of the future need to look like if more people are moving around a lot more flexibly? Today’s conventional transport models will prove inadequate in that case. So the planners are faced with a highly complex conflict situation.

Traffic should flow better with networked technology. © Siemens

Smart tech for flowing traffic

Different working times ease rush hours. Kilometre-long avalanches of metal could become a thing of the past – and connected technology can help with that too. For example, with a minor upgrade traffic lights can be controlled in such a way that they are able to adapt to the prevailing traffic conditions. The basic principles for this are already in place: pedestrians, cyclists and electric scooter drivers generally travel around with a smartphone that broadcasts its location. Connected cars can communicate with other connected vehicles and with the traffic control centre. Using the constant exchange between all these road users and their devices, recommended diversions could be advised in real time and lights switched to green in an optimized manner. That way, congestion times could be reduced by up to 25 per cent, thereby cutting down on CO2 emissions.

New solutions are also needed for the mix of private and public passenger transport. Transport authorities are already working on new pricing models, to adapt to the scenario where a not inconsiderable part of all season-ticket holders is commuting into the office less regularly in future. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, the eTarif NRW is being introduced at the end of 2021: an app will check the customer in at the start of his journey and out again at the end. The system then automatically determines the cheapest fare. If you don’t want to travel on the underground, you can hop on your bike or whizz on your e-scooter from A to B – and ideally with everything handled via an app that suggests the best combination of transport options for any preferred route; just as the Berlin transport companies are doing, for example, with the “Jelbi” app.

Fewer commutes – different modes of transport

New models of work also influence buildings – and, in turn, transport. Co-working spaces, more working from home or from places other than the familiar work space are all reducing the need for office space. And the consequence of that is fewer trips to the office. Urban planners are seeing this as a massive opportunity to bring life back into our city centres, to move residential uses back into the centres and to convert open spaces into areas for leisure or meeting-points.  More facilities for co-working could also lighten the load on those people who, while they don’t regularly commute to the office, don’t work permanently from home either – enabling them to have a shorter commute than was the case previously.

In the coronavirus pandemic, cities such as Berlin or Munich have also successfully introduced temporary cycle lanes onto city roads. Although the trial in Munich was wound up in autumn 2020, plans are in place, on at least three different roads around the city, for pop-up bike lanes to be re-introduced this year – with a possibility that these could be made permanent. Berlin, too, is planning to set up more dedicated cycle lanes, following trials with pop-up cycle lanes. These cycle routes are also becoming increasingly important for delivery traffic, because the boom in online retail shows no signs of abating. Trials with small-scale distribution depots are already underway: trucks take parcels for an area to a collection point, where they are re-loaded onto cargo bikes which transport the goods to their recipients, saving both road space and CO2.

The extent to which the pandemic has long-term consequences for car traffic and urban passenger transport cannot be assessed at this time. But one thing is clear: traffic in cities is becoming more diverse – and digitalization can help us to respond to the new challenges.

(Stage photo: © Unsplash/Nikola Balic)


The IAA MOBILITY is transforming itself from a pure car show to an international mobility platform with four pillars: the Summit, the Conference, the “Blue Lane” and the downtown Munich Open Space. Under the slogan of “What will move us next”, it stands for the digital and climate-neutral mobility of the future. From 7 to 12 September 2021, the car, bike and tech industries come together at IAA MOBILITY in Munich.