Last Rush Hour author Fred Pilot interviews Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson, authors of Future Work: Changing Organizational Culture for The New World of Work on how organizations must adapt to a new generation of workers in the 21st century information economy where knowledge work is no longer done exclusively 8-5 Monday-Friday in a centralized commuter office. Rapid advances in information and communications technology are quickly obsoleting the command and control management model of the 20th century Industrial Age where showing up and putting in time defined work. A new management model that empowers and entrusts knowledge workers to get the job done — and produce results — is now necessary, according to Maitland and Thomson. A bonus: reduced commuting and associated carbon emissions as world leaders convene in Paris on the topic of climate change.
A new policy brief by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation once again highlights the futility of expanding road capacity to reduce traffic congestion. Moreover, another expected benefit of doing so — economic development and job creation — isn’t generally realized.
In short, we can’t build ourselves out of rush hour traffic. We need a new, post-Industrial Age paradigm where information work comes to knowledge workers via information and communications technology rather building more pavement to transport workers to centralized, commute-in offices. Plus modernizing and building out telecommunications infrastructure to serve every premise in the communities where knowledge workers live.
The office space is far from dead, it’s re-emerging, in fact a recent report from commercial real estate company CBRE found that U.S. Office investment is at a 7-year high hitting $119 billion. So, if the office space isn’t dead then what’s going on? Office spaces are re-emerging as employee experience centers. All of the companies that are investing in new or redesigned spaces are doing so because they realize one crucial change that has happened in the workplace. That organizations can no longer assume that employees need to work there and organizations must in fact create environments where people actually want to show up. These beautiful new spaces aren’t being created for fun or because it’s a nice thing to do. Companies are leveraging their physical environment as a new strategic competitive advantage. Modern cafeterias with catered food, modular work spaces that can be moved around, wood-trimmed walls and floors, colorful art-work, stylish furniture, smart lighting and sensors are all part of creating great employee experiences where people actually want to show up to work.
Updating centralized commute-in offices for the 21st century still has a major downside: the fact that people who work there remain separated from them by distance and time, requiring the daily slog and time suck of the 20th century commute. A true 21st century approach is to leverage information and communications technology advances to decentralize knowledge work out to the communities where knowledge workers live.
We know there is a huge cost to getting people to work everyday: to the individual, the community and, to some extent, the employer. The costs are vehicles, gas, roads, pollution and time.
Is there a way to provide local job access to these commuters? Is there a model that would appeal to employers to have networked facilities in these communities. The costs of sending bits of information is minuscule relative to moving bodies. If you knew what companies/government agencies where hiring people from your community, might they work to examine how securely networked offices could create wins for communities, employees and employers alike.
Much of the push back directed at the decentralization of knowledge work out of centralized commuter offices (CCOs) due to the proliferation and maturation of information and communications technology is that CCOs provide an essential venue for daily collaboration. However, Shear — as do I in my recent book Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty-First Century — point out that daily, face to face collaboration comes at great cost. That cost isn’t adequately taken into account by the “CCOs are necessary to enable collaboration” adherents. In other words, the argument goes, we must endure the time suck and personal costs of daily commuting in order to collaborate.
I don’t buy that argument and I imagine neither does Shear. As he notes, with today’s level of ICT that allows thought work to be conducted most anywhere with decent Internet service, it’s far less costly to use ICT to collaborate by moving ideas and not the bodies attached to the brains that generate them. Shear proposes in order to facilitate that, communities can create shared office distributed work facilities that would allow knowledge workers to work in their own communities rather than trekking daily — often in congested rush hour traffic — to a CCO in another.
The alternative (California’s current solution) is commuting, as tech companies and their tens of thousands of employees are scattered throughout the peninsula, forced to find shelter anywhere they can. The Bay Area suffers from one of the worst commutes in the country. For decades, Silicon Valley’s suburbs have refused to accommodate high-rise apartments for tech workers and their massive campuses, which have slowly been pushed up north, from San Jose to San Francisco.
This article proposes the construction of high density, hi-rise housing in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley to alleviate the high cost of shuttling people to and from their homes and centralized commuter offices (CCOs). The problem is it’s based on Industrial Age thinking updated for the 21st century that promotes the false notion that knowledge and creative workers needs to be physically co-located daily in order to collaborate and be productive.
Is that really true? Couldn’t they easily use the information and communications technologies these Bay Area companies innovate to collaborate without the commute by moving bytes, not their bodies? That way people could skip the commute and work in home offices or co-working spaces in their communities. That’s an obvious and much lower cost solution to the traffic congestion that’s strangling the Bay Area. Colleagues could still get together for team building and in-person collaboration. But as needed and on their own schedules and not 8-5, Monday through Friday.
One of the most costly, time consuming and damaging aspects of America’s economy and environment is that of getting people to work. As American cities have grown into extended metropolitan areas and now mega-regions, they have become more polycentric; yet, the centralized business office method persists. Major organizations (both public and private) and corresponding local economic development policies preserve this legacy 20th century model. As the transformative and disruptive power of information technologies has chipped away at traditional organizational structures, the opportunity now exists to create a more effective, resilient, secure and equitable distributed organizational design.
Michael Shear reiterates the premise of my recent eBook Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty-First Century. In the book, I cite Shear’s concept of utilizing information and communications technology to redistribute knowledge work out of congested downtown metro centers to co-working facilities located at the edges — where housing is affordable and where much of the workforce lives. Here, Shear posits doing so would enable the U.S. federal government to better sustain operations in the event of an unforeseen event closing off access to downtown office buildings.
But for more than a decade, the Board of Equalization’s (BOE) headquarters building has been a nightmare to an assortment of state bureaucrats. Glass panels fall out; water leaks; elevators stop between floors; there are potentially dangerous contaminants; plaster falls off walls; there are lawsuits.
Telework and community-based shared co-working spaces would provide a solution to the ongoing and needless exposure of state civil servants to the deficiencies of this troubled building.
As his tagline goes, “home is where you park it.”
This illustrates the absurdity of Google’s centralized commuter office (CCO) in the San Francisco Bay Area where housing costs are dear.
Priscilla Sodums, who works as a field representative for the Census Bureau, dealing with a lack of broadband at home complicates her job. “I have to drive out to the Danville Library hotspot and mostly that works. It doesn’t always work, so then I have to drive someplace else. I spend a lot of time just trying to keep up with the demands of my job,” says Sodums.For Sharon Sprague, no broadband means a 60-mile daily commute to an office, when otherwise her job as the director of a bachelor of arts program for an online university would allow her to work at home.“My employer would love it. They’d love to have me working out of my house. Most everybody else in this area works out of their home,” says Sprague.
With the recession over, Sacramento-area freeways and roads are crowded again. Some say more than ever.
Is the daily commute to the centralized commuter office even necessary given that information and communications technology that connects knowledge work to knowledge workers is so widely accessible compared to room on freeways? Particularly in California with its green policy posture aimed at reducing carbon emissions?