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Smarter Cities

Moving our Workforce

CO_Reboot 2020_Moving our Workforce_1200

Written by 

Tan Zi Peng

Programme Manager

Padang & Co 


Find out more about

Smarter Cities.

"Reboot 2020: Tech Innovations for Sustainable Growth" is a series by Padang & Co to detect signals and discuss emerging trends arising from the COVID-19 crisis. We consider how these technology innovations could get us back on track for sustainable growth.

Empty roads, buses and trains at 8am. Such scenes are a stark contrast to what we have seen in the major cities of Southeast Asia in recent decades, as increased populations and economic activity, coupled with car and motorcycle ownership, put pressure on transportation systems.  

With COVID-19, one solution for Southeast Asia's peak-hour traffic problem seemed painfully simple: reduce non-essential travel.

When case numbers rose in Southeast Asia, governments and employers took measures to limit entry to workplaces for non-essential activities and where possible, adopt telecommuting practices. 

This has led to a rare respite in all Southeast Asian congested cities - reducing significantly traffic jams that daily commuters had to go through before the pandemic - which for many translates into a better quality of life. On the other hand, studies have shown that 61% of employees in Asia Pacific offices missed going into the office and would prefer a hybrid model including more flexible work arrangements in the future1. These transformations will require employers to adapt schedules and impact mobility infrastructures in the long term. 

We believe the Future of Work will shape the Future of Mobility. 


Embracing the Future of Work, adopting new flexible work arrangements

Many employers are already redesigning workspaces and processes in response to the pandemic. 

Pre-COVID, uniform work hours often led to employees' exposure to crowded environments, from their homes to their desks, and vice versa. 

Employers now reconfigure their managed spaces to allow safe distancing practices and let employees safely alternate their usage of personal workspaces, instead of fitting every employee within the office. Several jobs where an onsite presence was once deemed essential are now being done from employees’ homes. 

Companies around the world are rethinking office hours based on the learnings from implementing work-from-home protocols. Although workplaces are now being re-opened, they have an active role in preventing cross-spreading among their employees, so that their workplaces do not revert to a lockdown state.


Taking a human-centric approach to Mobility


As the cities recover from the COVID-19 disruption and peak-hour traffic and crowds re-emerge, we have to understand the new normal: why and how people are commuting.


There is a need to examine the needs and behaviours of employees moving between common destinations like home, the workplace, eateries, and meeting spots on a daily basis. This would help spread mobility demand and yield insights about opportunities for further optimisation of the transportation system.

Where Human Resources (HR) meets Mobility

In order to achieve better personalisation of mobility solutions for our work demands, we could leverage the increased use of technology in HR and find the data required for optimisation.


HR Tech startups are well placed to capture new opportunities, as they can help corporations track and improve employee engagement and performance remotely. They could derive insights about employee behaviour and contribute to designing flexible working schemes for employees to ensure the right level of necessary travel for them. 


Singapore-based company EngageRocket provides a cloud-based software that automates employee feedback and analytics to monitor and increase employee engagement and performance. The startup raised SGD3m in March 2020 to boost people analytics in Southeast Asia2


Companies specialising in scheduling optimisation or claims management could also lead the way in helping corporations to design optimal work schedules for teams according to their commuting constraints. Singapore-based startup Workforce Optimizer leverages AI to build a flexible workforce, featuring a full schedule automation module that helps managers to build smart schedules based on staff skills, availability, and preferences. 


Mobility-as-a-Service options for employees


We have seen many successful implementations of telematics and app-based tracking to connect real-time location and movement data of different types of vehicles. This allows for better management of our supply of mobility solutions, real-time information sharing and demand forecasting through historical data. 


In March 2020 Google helped digitise the free bus service programme offered by Philipines’s Department of Transportation (DOTr). The frontline healthcare workers traveling to their medical institutions used Google Maps to find the “best” recommended bus routes out 17 possible routes3.


Many large organisations with hundreds of employees are already taking the initiative to organise transportation to and from workplaces. They contract traditional transport operators with fixed schedules and fixed pick-up and drop off locations. Employees, in turn, plan their work in accordance with these schedules and choose to end their work so that they don’t “miss the bus”. Many unproductive hours are also spent being stuck in congestion with cars and buses from neighbouring organisations. 


Traffic is seen on Jl. Gatot Subroto in South Jakarta in this file photo. (Antara/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

In a future where employees have greater autonomy to choose when and how they want to travel, a combination of flexible working hours, HR Tech and a connected fleet could create a better mobility-as-a-service model. This could involve employers working with mobility solution providers, both private and public, to present their employees with tech-enabled options that are optimised for timeliness and comfort while remaining cost-effective for employers to offer.   


SWAT Mobility has recently joined hands with Toyota Motor Philippines to launch a corporate smart transportation solution in Manila for KMC Solutions, Philippines' largest co-working and staff-leasing company4. Philippines’ public transportation options, limited due to the pandemic, strained the movement of their workforce. The technology introduced not only resolved transportation issues, but also improved the employee’s overall experience by helping them avoid crowded public spaces and provide better tracking for administrative purposes.   




As the way we work transforms in the post-COVID world, so will the way we travel to and from work. New insights from a prolonged period of work-from-home practices will pave the way for a new way of working and consequently new mobility requirements. 


A better understanding of the demand for and supply of mobility solutions, achieved by leveraging insights about workforce behaviour and real-time location and movement data of vehicles, will lay the foundation for smarter mobility solutions going forward. 


Employers, through the efforts of their Human Resources function and through collaboration with private and public mobility solution providers, can play a stronger role in supporting the mobility needs of their employees to enable them to be safe and productive. 


A new, nuanced approach to moving our workforce in the post-COVID world may also mitigate the congestion problem in Southeast Asian cities in the long term. 

We at Padang & Co support UN SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities. We help accelerate innovation in the Mobility sector through innovation challenges like Singapore Mobility Challenge and build up the ecosystem’s data and AI talent pool through our AI for SEA programme.  


There is much that can be discussed regarding Smarter Cities and we will delve more into water systems in the coming weeks.  


We welcome your feedback on this piece. Get in touch with Zi Peng at to share your thoughts.


 The Reboot 2020 series focuses on areas we at Padang & Co are most concerned about — Food & Agriculture, Smarter Cities, and Health; with two themes, Sustainability and Data & AI, cutting across them. Read our first two articles on “Digitalisation in Healthcare” and Rebooting Food Systems".


1 Majority of Asia Pacific employees eyeing office return - JLL report

2 EngageRocket Raises $3M Series A, led by Qualgro, to boost People Analytics in Southeast Asia

3 GOOD NEWS: DOTr Free Ride for Health Workers routes now available on Google Maps!

4 Singapore's SWAT Mobility partners Toyota in Philippines for corporate transport


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