Future proofing Aussie cities from pandemics requires cultural change

Managing an ‘open Australia’ will require a re-evaluation of the way we design our cities and workplaces according to an expert panel convened by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) and sponsored by GSK Australia.

The panel discussion, Proofing against future pandemics, focused on how health, smart cities and resilient workplaces will inform Australia’s success as we learn to live with COVID-19.

David Fitz-Gerald, GSK Australia and New Zealand Head of Human Resources said building resilience into the workplace requires a change in culture.

“GSK is known as an innovator in medicines and vaccines. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted us to take further steps forward as an innovative workplace.”

“It prompted us to find new ways to support our people to thrive.”

“We have applied a new philosophy of ‘flex-pathy’, providing our workforce with ‘maximum flexibility, coupled with clear and consistent communication. This philosophy was embedded while also ensuring a sustained focus on our company goals.”

Learn from the global pandemic

Mr. Fitz-Gerald also said that companies that apply lessons from the pandemic will reap the benefits when it comes to attracting talent in competitive labor markets.

“Looking forward, we created a framework, called ‘Performance with Choice,’ brought to life in our culture, not in policy. We encourage people to have conversations to identify ways that support performance and to feel secure knowing that this flexibility is available to them.”

Panellist Malcolm Smith, Australasian Cities Leaders, Arup, had the following remarks.

“Re-evaluating our approach to the design of our cities for work, education and leisure will be important in the management of pandemics into the future.”

“Cities are not just about physical structures, they are representations of our social and economic aspirations. When we have our cities disrupted, it affects all of those aspects.”

“We need to understand re-integration of those aspects as we come out of disruption and model new scenarios with the lessons we’ve learned.”

“This includes seeing an increase in local trends, provision of services and changes to the composition and concentration of city centers. This has consistently played out in the pandemic as we saw inequitable access to open space across the world.”

“We now have the digital capacity to monitor the impact of disruption and its social effect on our cities, and we need to use it. We need to model our cities for multiple-use scenarios and have a conversation about making this a requirement for city design, like in Europe.”

Technology can address the challenges of pandemics

Panellist Jeff Connolly, CEO at Siemens Australia and New Zealand, emphasized that smart technology is a critical lever to address the global challenges of pandemics.

“We used to be bricks and steel only, but now we’ve got fully intelligent buildings and infrastructure. Pandemics require the real-time response that technology can provide, helping us to address the challenges of future pandemics and their effects on society.”

“With COVID-19, we used a lot of preventative measures, some of them proving unnecessary later. All because our environments were not designed to contain a virus-like COVID-19. We now have a chance to use smart technology so we can design these.”

“Digitalisation is at the heart of the solution. Smart technology is already being used in purpose-built locations like the National Gallery of Victoria. Solutions like increased filtration and UV lighting mean we’re able to address the challenges of the disrupted cities we live in.”

Today’s discussion was facilitated by Dr. Mel Miller, partner of Deloitte Access Economics, and was the second in a series of three sessions that focus on Australia’s post-pandemic future.

The next “Pandemic to Endemic” panel discussion will be held in February 2022.