Property Australia

Why mobility modelling is the secret to return-to-work


A return-to-work strategy requires more than a rethink of lifts and lobbies. It also demands hard data and honest conversations. We checked in with Stantec’s vertical and horizontal mobility specialists to learn more.

The return-to-work scenario is certainly complex. Before Safe Work Australia updated its guidelines on lift use last week, building owners were grappling with a restriction which advised workers to “maintain 1.5 metres distance when travelling in lifts where possible”.

Some large Australian landlords had warned it could take up to three hours for workers to enter their buildings under full occupancy.

After sustained advocacy from the Property Council, the new guidelines remove the 1.5 metre requirement, but building owners must still ensure, as far as they reasonably can, “that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas”.

But building owners still face big challenges, as they introduce new processes, like temperature checks, and limit the number of people congregating around lifts and in lobbies.

Alan Kerr, Stantec’s market sector lead for urban mobility in Australia and New Zealand, usually spends his time analysing and optimising the movement of people in busy urban areas – public transit, airport terminals and Olympic parks, for example. In recent weeks, he’s turned his attention to helping clients reopen their buildings as restrictions ease.

Kerr says there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Every building is different, but bespoke movement modelling can help building owners create a tailored return-to-office strategy and a safe ‘new business as usual’.

Using office plans and employee statistics, Stantec’s team can quickly model a host of variables to inform travel and arrival plans, access to elevators and safe queuing systems, office capacity, layout and space.

“We can use simulation modelling to test and optimise additional processes – like how long people may have to wait for a lift – to understand and maximise the number of people allowed back into a building,” Kerr says.

“As restrictions ease, modelling can help building owners to plan ahead for each stage and communicate clearly and early with tenants.” Armed with the hard data, they can have “adult conversations that drive achievable, safe outcomes”, he adds.

Michael Matrakis, Stantec’s vertical transportation project engineer, agrees.

“Lift traffic analysis and simulation modelling can help us understand what is realistic under a range of scenarios, particularly in taller buildings.”

Will people have to wait an hour to get back in the building if they duck out for a sandwich at lunchtime? Will they be able to dash down to their colleague’s office on another floor? These are just two of the multitude of questions that modelling can answer.

Matrakis expects, in some buildings, it will be “almost impossible to get a lift to go between floors, because lifts will have to work a lot harder to move the same number of people up and down the building”.

This is where the value of tenancies with interoffice stairs becomes evident, and “may become a lot more sought after, especially among single institutional tenants,” Matrakis adds.

Both Kerr and Matrakis can see a scenario where level 50 is no longer prime real estate, as tenants look for space on lower floors for convenience’s sake.

Kerr says one of the biggest lessons he’s learnt from special events like the Olympics is to turn tedious processes – security and ticket checking, for example – into part of the experience. He says smart landlords will be thinking about lobby activation to ease the queuing fatigue, and that may be as simple as a coffee cart. The same applies for stairs; the most uninspiring stairwell can become a canvas for street art, or a communication space for the tenant.

While the challenges loom large, Kerr says the secret to success is forward planning.

“Think, plan ahead, and communicate with tenants as quickly as possible. Not only will that ensure your buildings perform more flexibly, it will also allow tenants to get back to normality sooner rather than later.”

Learn more about how Stantec’s team of experts can support your return-to-office strategy.