At a New Year’s Eve party, I was talking to a business exec running a tech company located in a suburban office building. He was complaining about the number of times he would interview a person who would say he wasn’t crazy about taking the subway and then a bus all the way out to the ‘burbs every day. The exec got increasingly frustrated and at one point responded “So get a car! That’s what grown-ups do when they get jobs!” The candidate responded that he didn’t know how to drive, didn’t have a license, and would keep looking for a job that allowed him to use a bike or transit. This scenario has played out more than once, so the company is now looking for new office space downtown. The suburban office building in his business sector is functionally obsolete. It may well become what we used to call a “see-through” — a glass box with nothing inside.
There’s actually a bigger story here. Centralized commuter offices are also falling out of favor because they come with substantial geographical access challenges in sprawling metro areas. Plus as the story notes, millennials aren’t keen on bearing the non tax deductible expense of getting to and from them by car in congested daily commute trips.
The solution here isn’t moving the office — a 20th century approach — but rather moving the work by leveraging today’s 21st century information and communications technology to make work more accessible without the time and money suck of the daily commute. That way, people can work in their residential communities rather than having two communities: one in which they live and another where they work, located in a distant suburb or downtown.