The centralized commuter office as tech corporate edifice

It is not the only technology company erecting a shrine to itself. Apple’s employees have just begun moving into their new headquarters in Cupertino, some 70 kilometres away, which was conceived by the firm’s late founder, Steve Jobs. The four-storey, circular building looks like the dial of an iPod (or a doughnut) and is the same size as the Pentagon. At a price tag of around $5bn, it will be the most expensive corporate headquarters ever constructed. Throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley, cash-rich technology firms have built or are erecting bold, futuristic headquarters that convey their brands to employees and customers.

Source: Technology firms and the office of the future

This is richly ironic. These tech firms have decentralized knowledge work and obsoleted the daily commute to the office with hardware, software and apps that make performing knowledge work location independent. Yet they continue to build gleaming office complexes as corporate edifices that communicate economic power and success like their 20th century Industrial Age predecessors. Consequently, it’s no coincidence that the San Francisco-Silicon Valley area needlessly suffers from a 20th century malady — horrible commute traffic congestion — that grows worse in the 21st.

Dealing with the Sprawl Devil

In the last seven years alone, 600,000 new residents have settled in the region. Alameda is the fastest growing of Bay Area counties. Here, 120,000 people found elbow room—and in many cases, vast suburban lawns, swimming pools, and multicar garages—between 2010 and 2015. The county is now home to more than 1.6 million people. Contra Costa County’s population jumped from 1 million to almost 1.1 million in the same five-year period. The city and county of San Francisco also grew, from 800,000 people in 2010 to about 870,000 today. But most of this population growth is taking place in suburban areas far from major centers of employment, according to a report released by the California Department of Finance in early May.

The suburban growth is driving traffic congestion to crisis levels as residents commute hours each day to and from work on the Bay Area’s overburdened roadways. Traffic is increasingly cited in polls as one of the top reasons that locals want to leave the area. While many towns and cities combat traffic by improving transit systems and supporting housing projects near bus and train stations, traffic is getting worse—and the housing boom in the remote suburbs is directly reversing progress by introducing tens of thousands more people into communities that can only be easily accessed by automobiles. “Sprawl creates traffic,” Devalcourt noted. “It’s designed to accommodate driving.”

Source: Dealing with the Sprawl Devil

The San Francisco Bay Area Paradox I’ve frequently referenced on this blog continues to build.  The region — an Information and Communications Technology innovator — remains mired in a 20th century, post World War II Industrial Age mindset and the consequent paralysis of ever growing commute traffic congestion. Much of it generated by knowledge workers unnecessarily commuting to centralized office spaces elsewhere in the sprawling region when ICT makes it possible to work in the communities where they live.

Trump administration Infrastructure Initiative would fund efforts to reduce metro rush hour traffic

The Trump administration’s 2018 Infrastructure Initiative contained within the administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposes work be performed outside of commute-in offices and during regular business hours in order to reduce traffic congestion in American metro areas. This was among a half dozen proposals will be pursued by the administration as part of the Infrastructure Initiative laid out in this fact sheet:

Incentivize Innovative Approaches to Congestion Mitigation. The Urban Partnership Agreement Program – and its successor, the Congestion Reduction Demonstration Program – provided competitive grants to urbanized areas that were willing to institute a suite of solutions to congestion, including congestion pricing, enhanced transit services, increased telecommuting and flex scheduling, and deployment of advanced technology. Similar programs could provide valuable incentives for localities to think outside of the box in solving long-standing congestion challenges. (Emphasis added)

The advanced technology that can do the most to decentralize knowledge work and commute-driven traffic congestion is advanced telecommunications technology that enables knowledge workers to work in their communities rather than commuting daily to a remote office, generating unnecessary transportation demand that is taking a toll on the nation’s aging roads and highways. The administration should fund the rapid deployment of fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure to homes and community co-working spaces in order to achieve this objective.

The continuing commuting paradox of the S.F. Bay Area, stuck in the 20th Century

Eighty percent of jobs in the Bay Area are concentrated in suburban fringes with little access to regional rail, and three-quarters of Bay Area workers drive alone to work as a result, the study’s authors note.The report highlights a seeming irony: Despite pioneering innovations in their products and work spaces, they house their lava lamps and free cafes in suburban corporate campuses with seas of parking lots. It’s a form of office that took shape in the middle of the 20th century. Google, Apple and Facebook’s offices are all more than 3 miles from the nearest rail station.This isn’t going to be good for the companies’ economic vitality in the long run, said Allison Arieff, SPUR’s editorial director. “Something’s gotta give.”

Source: Study calls on big tech companies to move closer to transit – San Francisco Chronicle

The paradox of the San Francisco Bay Area continues. The Chronicle’s Nicholas Cheng points out the irony of companies that innovated information and communications technology (ICT) advances that have made the centralized, commute-in office spaces of the previous century all but obsolete, yet continue to cling to the outdated pattern. And as SPUR’s Allison Arieff says, the current state of affairs is unsustainable. There is only so much real estate, highway lanes, parking spaces and public transit capacity to work with. ICT provides far more capacity to move the products of knowledge and information work than transportation infrastructure can to move bodies every work day.

Report Summary: “State of the American Workplace,” Gallup – 1 Million for Work Flexibility

“Working remotely is also increasing across most industries that Gallup has studied,” the report says. “The finance, insurance and real estate industries experienced the greatest surge in time spent working remotely, followed by the transportation, manufacturing or construction, and retail industries. The community and social services; science, engineering, and architecture; and education, training, and library industries are on the other end of this trend: While employees in these fields still spend time working remotely, a smaller percentage are doing so today compared with a few years ago.” The Gallup data shows clear benefits to flexibility, with employee engagement rising when workers spend at least some time working remotely. The optimal engagement boost comes when workers are off-site for 60 percent to 80 percent of their time—in other words, three or four days out of the typical workweek.“ This pattern emphasizes that remote working has the greatest returns on engagement when employees maintain some degree of balance: working remotely most of the time but still getting face time with managers and coworkers,” the report says.

Source: Report Summary: “State of the American Workplace,” Gallup – 1 Million for Work Flexibility

The finding that the optimum work engagement occurs when most work is done outside of the traditional centralized, commute-in office (CCO) reinforces the view of those like Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson, authors of Future Work: Changing Organizational Culture for The New World of Work. They see the CCO evolving from daily workplace to meeting place. I interviewed Maitland and Thomson in this podcast produced in late 2015.

ICT innovators like Yahoo and IBM struggle with forces of decentralization they’ve unleashed

“Everyone I know is very upset,” says one employee, who like most interviewed asked to remain anonymous while discussing an employer. Some workers furiously began looking for new jobs. Others say they have stopped contributing to long-term projects because they aren’t sure whether they’ll be around in the future. “Source: qz.comThey can say “goodbye” to the best and brightest talent. Iike Yahoo and Best Buy, IBM is in deep trouble. Somehow that seems to create a “circle the wagons” reaction. But the connection between co-location and collaboration or innovation has NOT been proven. Many of the studies often cited in these arguments date back to the early 1990s when working at a distance was much more difficult.

Source: IBM’s recall of remote workers sounds like a death rattle. Say “goodbye” to the best and brightest. – Global Workplace Analytics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post by Global Workplace Analytics raises an excellent point that calls into question the value of information and communications technology (ICT) that makes collaboration possible without daily co-location and the commuting necessary to support it. It reflects the difficulty that even ICT innovators like IBM and Yahoo have coping with the society altering forces they’ve unleashed that make the commute-in office all but obsolete.

Bay Area commuters back taxes to pay to improve road, transit – SFGate

Bay Area residents have grown so exasperated by worsening traffic and the paucity of government money to make things better that they’re willing to tax themselves to pay for a regional program of improvements.That’s according to a poll released Friday, just two days after Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic state legislators announced a transportation funding plan that would boost fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees for $52 billion in road and public-transportation improvements. Two years in the works, the plan would deliver much-needed funding for transportation but still leave many needs unfunded.

Source: Bay Area commuters back taxes to pay to improve road, transit – SFGate

Those long suffering commuters have a much lower cost solution thanks to the ingenuity of the Bay Area’s information technology companies. And it’s already available to them without the need for new taxes. Knowledge workers can utilize ICT to work at home and in their communities instead of getting into their cars and onto crowded freeways to drive to an office.

As management guru Peter Drucker sagely asked, “What is the point of spending such huge sums to bring a 200-pound body downtown when all you want of it is its eight-and-a-half-pound brain?”

SF Bay Area paradox: 21st century ICT leader chokes on 20th century rush hour traffic

“Congestion is having a dramatic impact on the quality of life in the Bay Area,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business lobbying group active in transportation issues. According to the study, drivers in the San Francisco area, which includes the inner East Bay, the Peninsula and the South Bay, wasted 83 hours sitting or creeping along in traffic in 2016. Last year’s survey, which used a different methodology, ranked San Francisco second in the nation, tied with Washington, but behind Los Angeles. Bay Area drivers in 2015 wasted 75 hours in traffic. Congestion causes San Francisco-area drivers $1,996 a year per person in wasted time, Inrix concluded, compared with a national average of $1,400. […] Bob Pishue, Inrix’s senior economist and study co-author, said San Francisco’s congestion during the morning and evening commutes is the worst in the nation, particularly on city streets. In the Bay Area, Wunderman said, the long, slow commutes combined with the rising cost of housing are starting to drive away some job seekers and could have the same effect on employers. “I hear anecdotally from companies all the time about problems with people getting to their jobs,” Wunderman said.

Source: SF traffic ranks as 4th worst in world

This puzzling paradox continues. The San Francisco Bay Area and nearby Silicon Valley are home to many of the world’s information and communications technology (ICT) leaders. But the region continues to function as if it were 1965 when everyone commuted to the office because there was no Internet yet and all the tools knowledge workers needed to do their jobs were still at the office. And that none of the innovations its companies have created exist, tools that have decentralized knowledge work and the centralized, commute-in office, effectively obsoleting daily commute trips that are choking its streets and highways.

We have the “killer app” to slay rush hour traffic congestion

Los Angeles has topped the INRIX Global Congestion Ranking to be named the most gridlocked city in the world. Carried out by INRIX, Inc., experts in transportation analytics and connected car services, the research looked at traffic congestion in 1,064 cities across 38 countries worldwide, making it the largest study ever of its kind.Los Angeles took the number one spot after the results revealed that in 2016 drivers in the city spent 104 hours in congestion during peak time periods, followed by Moscow (91 hours), New York (89 hours), San Francisco (83 hours) and Bogota (80 hours). Sao Paulo came in sixth, followed by London, Atlanta, Paris and Miami. The US was also named the most congested developed country in the world, with the country accounting for 11 of the top 25 cities worldwide with the worst traffic congestion and with drivers on average spending 42 hours a year in traffic during peak times.

Source: Los Angeles named the most gridlocked city in the world

The Industrial Age has shown we can’t build our way out of gridlock due to what transportation planners term induced demand. Self driving cars and “smart city” traffic controls aren’t the answer either. There’s only so much real estate in crowded metro areas. That’s why they are congested and housing there sells at a premium beyond the reach of most.

We already have the “killer app” to address this problem in the increasingly post industrial, information economy: Internet-based telecommunications technology. It eliminates the need for unnecessary peak hour travel to centralized, commute-in offices since it enables the knowledge and information work traditionally done in offices to be accomplished most anywhere. One no longer needs to sit for hours in rush hour traffic to send email to co-workers and clients, write a report or collaborate on a project.

There are also adverse health as well the obvious environmental impacts of so many vehicles idling on clogged freeways. All that sitting and stress contributes to preventable health conditions as it becomes apparent that like adding more freeway lanes to ease traffic congestion, we cannot medically treat or spend our way to health. Office workers need to get off their butts and out of their cars move around and be active. The most accessible setting for most is in their communities, using the freed up time now unnecessarily wasted on commuting.

ICT offers big part of solution to housing affordability crisis — and federal infrastructure initiatives should fund it

The biggest constraint, Holman said, is a lack of available land. “Southern California is pretty spread out and opportunities for large-scale developments are often far from where people want to live,” he said.

Source: Middle-class workers can’t afford to buy homes in L.A. County and the future looks dim

People naturally want to live close to where they work in the traditional, Industrial Age paradigm where they work in centralized, commute-in locations. Problem is as this article illustrates is that concentrates demand that drives up the cost of housing to the point that it becomes unaffordable for most.

 

 

 

 

 

This is where today’s advanced information and communications technology (ICT) offers a solution at least for the many knowledge workers who engage in the no win tradeoff of commuting long distances in search of affordable housing. ICT distributes knowledge work out of high cost metro centers, making it possible to perform in outlying and less densely populated areas where housing dollars go further. That’s why major federal infrastructure plans currently under consideration should include funding for telecommunications infrastructure that puts these areas on a par with that found in densely populated areas.