How COVID-19 and ‘work from anywhere’ can build the city of the future

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Amit Midha, President, Asia-Pacific and Japan, Dell Technologies

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how millions of people work and their relationship with cities where work is based;
  • The pandemic has shown the significance of technology and how vital it is for a city to reinvent and stay relevant;
  • Smart cities can help urban centres retain talent, as well as better prepare for future challenges and crises, but how can cities transform digitally?

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically and drastically changed the way we work. All around the world, government, education and healthcare industries have had to operate virtually, in many cases for the first time. Work from anywhere is becoming a more permanent fixture wherever jobs allow.

Fresh debates on the future of work are emerging as economies look to reopen from restrictions. More companies are opting for hybrid work arrangements and such changes mean less pressure to commute daily. People may feel less inclined to stay within a city’s parameters where their work is located. What will that mean to the cities we have painstakingly built over decades? How can cities adapt and transform to remain relevant and competitive in the “new normal”?

Beyond economics: what is the role of cities?

Cities have been an engine of growth in many respects; they are the fundamentals of a global economy. As of 2019, Tokyo was the world’s largest metro economy with an estimated GDP of $1.6 trillion. According to the World Economic Forum’s ranking, the top five most important cities – New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, London and Shanghai – are expected to cumulatively contribute $8.5 trillion in GDP by 2035. By the same year, all the major players will shift to Asia with four of the fastest-growing cities to be found in mainland China, another four in India and the last two in South-East Asia.

The role of cities goes beyond economics. They bring people and companies together to learn from one another while sharing ideas. Cities are also a representation of one’s identity, serving as social hubs for people to connect on common goals, purpose and vision. They allow people to be close to the people and amenities they choose.

How COVID-19 will change cities
How COVID-19 will change cities

In the world we used to know, the role of cities was to grow the local economy and opportunities to attract the best talent. Digital transformation was a siloed agenda with unproven return-on-investments. Today, however, cities need to focus on digital infrastructure to improve quality of life while retaining talent.

As we shift from response to recovery, what we have learned through quick pivots, sometimes overnight, is the significance of technology and how vital it is for a city to reinvent and stay relevant. We must take these lessons forward as we reshape the cities of the world to build resilient and future-proof cities that can withstand the toughest of challenges.

A digital core will power cities of the future

Cities need to be able to deal with the next pandemic or crisis – the transformation must start today. By 2050, 68% of the global population will live in cities.

A digital city cannot be built in siloes. Given the complex, interconnected and dynamic nature of the urban system, the true value of this transformation can be achieved only when cities grow as an intelligent “system of systems” that maximizes the value of the data, which forms the core fabric of these cities of the future. A digital core is significant to power the cities of the future.

In the recent Smart City Index, Singapore topped the list for the second year running. A common observation for the best performing cities was how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic better with technology. Professor Arturo Bris, director of the World Competitiveness Centre at IMD, explains this perfectly: “Smart cities are not the solution, but technology helps.”

Our current system can be hesitant to make changes as the creation of new, inspiring cities requires a rethinking and reformation of the existing rules and regulations. However, smart cities are no longer simply a “nice to have” but a choice that governments must proactively make to attract and retain talent, stay prepared for future crises and thrive. Cities need to build a digital foundation that can weave an integrated and seamless digital fabric across the public, private and citizen spheres. This will help them build a “whole-of-society” capability to not only respond and manage the next generation of crises but also to build a truly smart and efficient engine for growth.

This is an extension of the “whole-of-government” approach which refers to a design where multiple government departments, ministries or public sector agencies act in a concerted or integrated manner to provide a common set of services or solutions to citizens. Singapore is a good example of a nation that has adopted this approach and has subsequently extended it to a “whole-of-nation” approach.

What will it take to transform cities into digital cities?

A digital city is an umbrella where many technologies come together for the enrichment of people and society. It will change the way we work, live and learn. For digital cities to become a fixture in our society, we need to build trust, be less intrusive and at the same time, deliver on the vital “quality of life” benefits they can provide for citizens.

We must embrace innovation and allow it to happen anywhere. This means giving people the tools they need and being open about the data that is collected and used, as well as conducting hackathons to engage citizens and pool ideas when reinventing the city.

Here are some ways municipalities and governments can bring to life the smart cities concept:

  • Create the vision and have the right leadership;
  • Start small but lay the right foundations;
  • Make sure they are engaging with all the stakeholders;
  • Recognize the role of citizens.

Digital cities are becoming a reality as we speak. The pandemic will not make cities obsolete but instead expedite the pace for change and, as time progresses, what we learn from digital cities and our experience of them will bring huge dividends to all of society.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Coronavirus crisis: “Commission will use all the tools at its disposal to make sure the European economy weathers the storm”

UN Middle East Coordinator strongly condemns ‘arrests and violence’ by Hamas security forces during Gaza protests

Nicaragua: MEPs condemn brutal repression and demand elections

Renewal of cross-border aid operation critical to northern Syria: UN relief chief

Ocean Conference has potential to be a ‘global game-changer’

Trump stumbles badly on his Russian openings; Europeans wary of Putin

Amid ongoing fighting in northeast Syria, hundreds cross Iraqi border in search of safety

Why do medical curricula shouldn’t neglect the Sustainable Development Goals

Somalia’s population, international partners must be energized to sustain country’s ‘upward trajectory,’ says senior UN official

Tackling terrorism: MEPs approve tighter rules on homemade explosives

Women outliving men ‘everywhere’, new UN health agency statistics report shows

A brief history of cryptography and why it matters

The Fourth Industrial Revolution can close the digital divide. This is how

Here are 5 of the biggest threats to our oceans, and how we can solve them

EU Council agrees to reform the system for motor vehicles but with “restricted” power for the Commission

EU takes again positive action on migration crisis while Turkey asks for dear favors in exchange for cooperation

Humanitarian Aid: EU allocates €55 million in Sudan

America writes-off Iran, blocks Europe’s Tehran talks

No improvement in respect for EU values: MEPs cut support for Turkey by €70m

UN experts urge United Arab Emirates to release terminally ill woman to live her last days ‘in dignity’

White Coat, Stained red

Corruption In The Balkans Is Impeding EU Membership

Car-free day – and the other 364 days of the year

UN report on Syria conflict highlights inhumane detention of women and children

Four things Turkey did for business in the G20

The pandemic has damaged youth employment: Here’s how we can help

Hungary’s laws on helping vulnerable foreigners are ‘blatantly xenophobic’: UN rights chief

UN chief welcomes new Government in Lebanon, after eight-month impasse

European Commission secures EU access to Remdesivir for treatment of COVID-19

Thoughtful blockchain implementation is key to improving supply chains in a post-COVID world

An introduction to ‘Eco-Medical Literacy’ and its importance in shaping expert medical professionals

Connectivity and collaboration in the ICT industry: the key to socio-economic development

Humanity ‘at a crossroads’ as damage to planet poses growing risk to health, UN environment agency warns

A woman would have to be born in the year 2255 to get equal pay at work

Yemen: Major UN aid boost for ‘up to 14 million’ as country risks becoming a land of ‘living ghosts’

Tropical Cyclone Idai affects 1.5 million across Mozambique and Malawi, as UN ramps up response

Greferendum: the biggest political gaffe in western modern history to tear Europe apart? #Grexit #Graccident

UN calls for shipping ‘propulsion revolution’ to avoid ‘environmental disaster’

Joint UN-Congolese strategy needed to address insecurity following deadly attacks

“We have to do a better job of creating alternatives to violent extremism”, US Secretary of State John Kerry from Switzerland; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

Coronavirus: EU global response to fight the pandemic

5 ways Denmark is preparing for the future of work

How changemakers in Bangkok are popularising the circular economy

The 10 most common types of plastic choking Europe’s rivers

Switzerland: prepare for population ageing to maintain high living standards

UN envoy ‘encouraged’ by latest talks on avoiding ‘worst-case scenario’ in Syria’s Idlib

UN underlines need for dialogue to resolve Israel-Palestine conflict

‘No country, no region’ can tackle global challenges alone says UN’s Mohammed

Climate emergency: City mayors are ‘world’s first responders’, says UN chief

The Great Reset requires FinTechs – and FinTechs require a common approach to cybersecurity

Assassinations in Ethiopia amidst regional ‘coup’ attempt, condemned by UN chief

Coronavirus: the truth against the myths: Lockdown by a novel coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV

More progress needed on reducing and redesigning agricultural support policies

African migration: what the numbers really tell us

Top global firms commit to tackling inequality by joining Business for Inclusive Growth coalition

Systems leadership can change the world – but what exactly is it?

Presentation of Juncker’s Investment Plan: Can 315 billion euros save the EU?

Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino died – here are more species on the verge of extinction

UN calls for funds to ease ‘deteriorating’ humanitarian situation in Gaza and West Bank

Take medical use of cannabis seriously, say MEPs

More Stings?


  1. ‘Work from anywhere’ is good and can build the city of the future. Thank you 😊

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s