Exurban migration demands fiber delivered advanced telecom infrastructure, EVs

Growth on the urban periphery, while a boon for housing affordability, comes with environmental costs, chewing up farmland and perpetuating the car-centric lifestyles that are a significant contributor to climate change. California, for instance, has a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, but has found it increasingly out of reach as home prices have pushed workers farther from the urban core, where they drive more. In theory, if more people work from home, even in if more people work from home, even in a hybrid capacity, it would offset some of those emissions by cutting down daily commutes. But the farther people get from the urban density and public transportation, the more dependent they become on cars even for short trips.

Source: House Hunters Are Leaving the City, and Builders Can’t Keep Up – The New York Times

As per previous posts on this blog, fiber delivered advanced telecom is the essential utility for knowledge workers migrating to the exurbs. That replaces the need for long commutes and related carbon emissions. But as this NYT piece points out, personal vehicles are still needed for short trips — a need that can be met with EVs.

Leased/owned office space downsizing likely to accelerate

Knowledge work is currently in an awkward transition out of centralized commuter offices (CCOs) and dispersed to home offices. Many organizations have adopted what’s referred to as “hybrid” arrangements with staff working in the CCO a set number of scheduled days, typically two or three days a week. For knowledge workers, the hybrid arrangement is disruptive. The vast majority need only one workspace as shown during the COVID-19 public health measures.

A home office is that location. It provides convenient access to food and coffee that fuel knowledge work, particularly given many if not most CCOs lack on site cafeterias. In addition, workspaces are customized to knowledge workers’ preferred equipment and ergonomics. Some, for example, may prefer sit/stand desks or kneeling chairs that aren’t present in both home offices and CCOs. Finally, their most portable knowledge work tool – the brain – does not require multiple locations in order to function effectively.

The homes of some knowledge workers don’t offer a good office setting. They may not have a suitable space for a home office setup or other circumstances that make it impractical as a regular workplace. These staff need and prefer the CCO to get their work done. But they are a small minority and don’t justify the amount of office space organizations must finance. They can get by with only a fraction of their current owned and leased space and considerably reduce operating expense.

Organizational management is recognizing the trend and potential sizable cost savings and rightsizing their office space footprints accordingly. Expect this to accelerate over the next few years.

Looking back and forward from late 1989: The Home Office

An article I penned on the emerging trend of telecommuting aka “home working” as seen in late 1989 in early days of microcomputers and at the dawn of the Internet. (Link to downloadable .pdf file below). Jack Nilles quoted predicting major portion of urban workforce would be telecommuting from home or satellite (versus centralized commuter offices) by 2030, seen by him then playing out over four decades.

Despite Remote Work, Rush Hour Returned – Bloomberg

Source: Despite Remote Work, Rush Hour Returned – Bloomberg

The upshot of this piece is the potential bifurcation of knowledge organizations. One group staffed by those who live close in to urban centers where commutes are relatively short and can be done by foot powered transportation and public transit. These organizations have established “downtown” urban identities and convening cultures based on face to face interaction among staff, clients and vendors. They’re deeply invested in gleaming steel and glass office towers by virtue of ownership or long term leases.

Staff who commuted from the outer suburbs and distant reaches of metro areas who worked at home during pandemic public health measures are not going to be inclined to give up the equivalent of another workday as commuting time. That could lead to a sorting of personnel, with only those who fit into the organization’s let’s meet downtown culture remaining and the rest departing.

For suburban office parks, it’s a different story. A Houston transportation planner quoted in the article notes they serve merely as workplaces and lack the cultural vibe of the downtown office-based organization. For staff and consultants of these organizations, daily work activity of “sitting 8 hours a day drafting something or tapping a keyboard and interacting minimally with people,” can easily be performed in a home office.

The Pandemic Blew Up the American Office — For Better and Worse | Stanford Graduate School of Business

Rather than letting individual employees simply choose when they will come into the office, companies should implement an organized approach, Bloom argues. “If this is well managed, you can have the best of both worlds,” he says. “But my advice to firms is to decide this centrally. A mixed mode can be pretty terrible if some people are working from home and others are in the office.” Companies could, for example, cluster group activities, such as planning meetings and client presentations, on “in-office” days.

Source: The Pandemic Blew Up the American Office — For Better and Worse | Stanford Graduate School of Business

This is from Nicolas Bloom, a professor of economics with the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

While not directly, Bloom is essentially redefining the office from being a regular workplace used by set people at set times to an ad hoc meeting and presentation setting. It comes as knowledge organizations continue to struggle to determine which days a week it function as a regular workplace as social distancing measures are relaxed amid mass immunization against COVID-19.

As an ad hoc meeting location for group activities, former centralized, commute in offices can function on a downsized basis as meeting locations to provide opportunities for face to face collaboration that managers and many knowledge workers find useful to supplement working alone. Confabs and presentations could be multi-day functions. Staff who live far from the office could be lodged nearby and return home after the function has ended.

The experience of the past 15 months has shown workers no longer need to sit in a cube farm 8-5, Monday through Friday in order to do their work when they can accomplish it whenever and wherever work can get done.

Apple and Google want to force remote workers back into cubicles. That friction could lead to a job exodus

But who has to come back to work — and when and where — is proving fraught as millions of workers face having a new way of living and working ripped away by managers requiring them to show up in person, or else. That tension could mean some workers leave for companies offering more flexibility and the ability to shed burdensome commutes in favor of time with family and friends.

McCracken said some people he interviewed said “it feels like they’re putting their hand in my pocket, that they’re taking two hours from me that I had learned to use for myself” that would now flip back to wasted commute time.

Source: Apple and Google want to force remote workers back into cubicles. That friction could lead to a job exodus

A great post pandemic sorting among knowledge workers and organizations at hand.

More than a year into America’s great work-from-home experiment, many companies have hailed it largely as a success. So why do some bosses think remote workers aren’t as committed as office dwellers? Recent remarks of numerous chief executives suggest the culture of workplace face time remains alive and well. At The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit this month, JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said remote work doesn’t work well “for those who want to hustle.” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called it “an aberration that we are going to correct as soon as possible.”

Source: Bosses Still Aren’t Sure Remote Workers Have ‘Hustle’ – WSJ

These comments demonstrate that for some organizations, gathering daily at a centralized, commute-in office (CCO) is an integral part of their cultures that cannot be easily erased in a single year. But it should be borne in mind that while CEOs have a large degree of influence on their organizational culture, it’s not absolute. Cultures are defined by all their members.

Now that their staff members have been freed of the personal time burden of daily commuting, many are understandably reluctant to reassume it. Knowledge organizations are now having to redefine their cultures for the post pandemic world going forward. They’ll undergo a sorting process as some staff depart for more virtual organizations while others who prefer working in a CCO align with CCO-based organizations — most likely those who live close by.

Certainly working in a CCO has its advantages, such as the social contact and in person communication with colleagues. But as commutes grow longer as metro areas sprawl and housing costs rise, the daily trip to and from a distant CCO becomes impractical where it might not be in small towns and less congested areas where knowledge workers can commute to the office by foot and/or bicycle. These less populated locales have also proven popular as CCOs closed down over the past year and knowledge workers sought more affordable and less congested settings, some in other states and countries.

Some knowledge CCO-based organizations may become the office equivalent of teaching hospitals where senior staff and managers closely interact with and supervise more junior staff and inculcate them in the cultural ways of their organizations. Others such as boutique consulting shops won’t have CCOs and attract as they have in recent years experienced people who can work as location independent team members and don’t require close supervision.

Washingtonian staff goes on strike after CEO Cathy Merrill’s op-ed about remote work – The Washington Post

In Thursday’s op-ed, Merrill wrote that she had discussed the downsides of remote work with fellow chief executives and estimated that unofficial office duties such as “helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone’s birthday — things that drive office culture” made up 20 percent of their work.

Source: Washingtonian staff goes on strike after CEO Cathy Merrill’s op-ed about remote work – The Washington Post

The public health restrictions that shut down centralized commuter offices (CCO) shone a spotlight on the high cost of maintaining an office-based culture. There’s the direct cost to knowledge organizations to keep all that brick, mortar and glass that house cube farms occupiable.

Then there’s the indirect commuting cost that has historically been externalized onto workers. The predominant management mindset pre-pandemic was staff chooses where they want to live. How far away that is from the office or how long it takes for them to get here Monday through Friday is not our problem.

But housing choice isn’t fully within the control of knowledge workers. High housing costs in metro cores have forced knowledge workers farther from them in search of affordable housing. That leads to longer commutes — borne directly by knowledge workers who sacrifice time that could otherwise be spent on health promoting activities such as exercise, sufficient sleep, and home prepared meals as well as in their communities and with their families.

Now that so many knowledge workers have been freed of these personal costs during the pandemic, their value has become very clear. They’re understandably reluctant to surrender the personal time they recovered. Particularly since their organizations have gone on functioning largely without the CCO for more than a year, thanks to advances in information and communications technology.

Work from home still reigns as offices plan to reopen – Los Angeles Times

Human beings have not been fundamentally changed by the coronavirus, Dezzutti said, and will again seek one another’s company in busy metropolises.

“In history, there has been no pandemic or plague or natural disaster that’s killed off the city,” he said. “Our need to live and work in urban clusters, and the concentration of people and economic activity that occurs there, is just too strong.”

Source: Work from home still reigns as offices plan to reopen – Los Angeles Times

This analysis overlooks a powerful trend over the past two decades of information and communications technology decentralizing knowledge work out of urban centers. Also, high housing costs in urban areas and hours wasted commuting from more affordable outlying portions of metros that come with too high a cost for daily gathering in a centralized, commute-in office. True, humans are social beings and like to gather. But they most naturally do so in close proximity to where they live.

Rebalancing Irish residential settlement for information economy

Like other countries across Europe, the hollowing out of once vibrant villages and small towns has contributed to wider social divisions, and scholars and public policy experts have warned that the split could become a major source of tension in Western democracies. Ireland’s proposal, “Our Rural Future,” is one of the most ambitious efforts announced in Europe to address the issue, prompted by the changes brought about by the pandemic. Among other things, it proposes legislation that would give employees the right to request to work from home, the establishment of a network of 400 remote-working hubs, and funding for better internet connectivity nationally.

Source: Covid-19 News: Live Updates – The New York Times