What is the Future of Offices When Workers Have a Choice? – The New York Times

Post-Covid for example, a Brooklyn or Queens resident who previously commuted to Manhattan may opt to work several days a week in a shared space within a 10-minute walk from home. Some large employers are already experimenting with satellite offices in the suburbs of cities in which they already have a downtown headquarters. The main office will remain important for most companies, but fewer employees will be expected to be there all day, every day…Offices will need spaces for specific tasks like focused work, team brainstorming, client presentations and employee training. And they will need to be more focused on individuals, even if these people work for a large company.

Source: What is the Future of Offices When Workers Have a Choice? – The New York Times

These predictions are spot on. In the coming years, knowledge work will be done in a variety of settings instead of a centralized, commute in office — a trend that began to pick up steam in the decade leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working from home (WFH) that got a giant boost due to pandemic public health measures to tamp down indoor gathering and support social distancing will continue. It will likely be most prominent in less densely developed exurban and rural areas where walking or cycling to a shared neighborhood office space is less practical. Homes in these areas with dedicated office space and served by fiber-delivered advanced telecommunications services will be in demand.

In more densely developed urban and suburban neighborhoods, shared office spaces within reasonable walking and cycling distance should prove popular once vaccines have developed herd immunity against SARS-CoV-2, particularly among households lacking dedicated office space or whose makeups aren’t ideal for WFH.

Traditional office spaces will remain relevant, but repurposed from regular daily workplaces to support the group activities that Dror Poleg lists in his article. These workspaces can be equipped with smart presentation rooms that can’t easily be emulated for interactive large group activities — at least not yet — with online real time platforms like Zoom. For smaller organizations with smaller office space footprints, conference facilities can support these functions. Finally, these co-located activities don’t have to occur on a set basis but only when the need presents such as kicking off a strategy or project or working through a challenge that requires a focused, group effort.

To reduce commute transportation demand and further its climate goals, California should tap pension funds to support advanced telecommunications infrastructure

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently issued an executive order directing the state Department of Finance to create a Climate Investment Framework. The order notes that while the state has established an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, emissions from automobiles and other forms of transportation remain a “stubborn driver” of emissions. The order further directs the State Transportation Agency to reduce transportation-based emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled by bringing jobs and housing in closer proximity and to “encourage people to shift from cars to other modes of transportation.” The order also calls for the state to leverage its $700 billion pension investment portfolio and assets to advance California’s climate leadership.

Placing jobs and housing in closer proximity has historically proven to be difficult to achieve in California given local governments have much more direct jurisdiction over land use planning than the state. A better approach would be to leverage pension funds to support regional projects by local governments to build much needed modern fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure. Pension funds the patient capital needed for long term investments such as infrastructure. This strategy would reduce commute transportation demand by better connecting California communities and allowing office workers to more easily work from their homes and co-working centers instead of piling onto freeways daily and spewing vehicular emissions. It’s particularly timely as the state’s high housing prices in metro areas drive lengthening commutes as people seek affordable homes often located at the edges of metro areas and beyond. This is where advanced telecommunications infrastructure tends to be the weakest but provides the greatest benefit.

Advanced telecommunications infrastructure redraws socioeconomy

Virtually everything has changed in the internet age. There were times when people flocked to cities for work. Lured by the opportunity for prosperity, people moved to major cities, driving massive population growth. During the Industrial Revolution, people moved to places such as Detroit to work on the assembly lines of automotive manufacturers, and in the tech boom, professionals flocked to Austin, Boston and Silicon Valley. Now these metro areas are bursting at the seams. Though a major city can be attractive for professional, educational or social reasons, rural communities are equally attractive and full of opportunities – but only if they have the great equalizer: access to high-speed internet. The internet boom – the current era – introduced the idea of “knowledge workers.” Today, instead of moving to a city to pursue a specific field of work, knowledge workers can work from anywhere in the country for major companies. Instead of moving to San Jose to work at a technology company headquarters, a knowledge worker can deliver that same work, remotely, from a town in the Sierras or the middle of Wisconsin. With high-speed internet access, small towns have the opportunity to offer “big city jobs.”

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The social case that enables transformation from labor to knowledge work is arguably greater in magnitude. The combination of new levels of  consumption and productivity changes the lives of individuals, families and entire communities. This combined opportunity has true potential for industrial diversification and economic growth that also improves the quality of life for people who use the network to not only consume but also to deliver their work.

Click to access BBC_Aug18_ProsperityBBAccess.pdf

Leverage ICT for rapid remedy to jobs vs. affordable housing imbalance in metro areas

As I look out the window of my California Housing Finance Agency office in downtown Sacramento at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, I see a lot of cars.Filled with public employees, teachers, nurses and construction workers, the cars aren’t going to nearby homes. They are lining up to jump on the freeway and drive to the distant homes their drivers can afford. These are middle-income, working families who can’t find housing in the region’s most important job center. And this isn’t just a Sacramento problem, it’s a California problem.

Source: Don’t neglect middle class in California’s housing crisis | The Sacramento Bee

Actually it’s not just a California problem. It’s present in many if not most metro areas. It will be an ongoing issue as long as knowledge industry jobs continue to be concentrated in metro centers where housing is costly, forcing knowledge workers to live elsewhere — often more than an hour away over congested highways — where housing is affordable.

Building more affordable housing in metro centers is far easier said than done and can take decades of political and regulatory wrangling. A far faster and less costly and complicated solution is leverage today’s information and communications technology (ICT) to bring knowledge work to the communities where knowledge workers live, working in home or satellite offices or co-working facilities.

Leveraging ICT doesn’t mean there are no infrastructure costs over the long term. The infrastructure for the 21st century is fiber optic cable. Dubbed the “Information Superhighway” by Al Gore, it should be given the same priority and funding as roads and highways were in the 20th, particularly to deploy it to outlying communities with the greatest need for telecommunications infrastructure modernization.

Renewed exurban growth doesn’t necessarily mean long commutes

The reasons for growth can be varied, according to Frey and other demographers. Jobs in booming cities can draw new residents to nearby small towns, where quiet streets and good schools can be especially appealing to millennials ready to raise children. In some states, urban gentrification has pushed the poor and immigrants further into outlying towns, where housing is less expensive.The growth may portend a renewed interest in faraway suburbs, which was tamped down during the recession, Frey said.“The more successful parts of the country may be poised to experience a renewed ‘exurbanization’ as the economy picks up,” Frey said, referring to people who choose to live in rural areas while commuting into the city for work. The trend could lead to continued growth of small towns in states like Colorado, Oregon and Utah.

Source: While Most Small Towns Languish, Some Flourish

This item takes a surprisingly circa 1990 retro view of exurbanization. The virtualization of knowledge-based organizations and the broader deployment of advanced Internet protocol-based telecommunications infrastructure are factors that didn’t exist much then, making a long commute essential for most exurbanites. That’s not necessarily the case in 2017 and will increasingly be less so in the future.

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.

German push for universal Internet service recognizes decentralization of economy

Germany will make an additional 1.3 billion ($1.45 billion) euros in funding available to expand broadband internet access to poorly-connected regions, the Transport and Digital Infrastructure Ministry said on Friday.

The government announced plans last October to spend 2.7 billion euros as part of a push to give all households in Germany access to internet speeds of at least 50 megabytes per second by 2018.

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Better access is viewed as a crucial part of Germany’s so-called Digital Agenda, which aims among other goals to promote the digitization of industry by connecting factory floors to the internet.

Many of Germany’s small-and-medium-sized companies – known as the Mittelstand and which form the backbone of the economy – are located in rural areas.

Source: Germany boosts funds for faster internet to 4 billion euros

The last paragraph points up the profound power of advanced telecommunications to transition the economy away from the Industrial Age model where economic activity is centralized in large enterprises located in major metro areas. Apparently that’s not the case in Germany — and is likely be increasingly so in other advanced nations in the age of the Internet.

This is the first national policy that implicitly recognizes that smaller businesses located outside of central metro regions will play a key role in the evolving economy and thus require advanced telecommunications infrastructure. This also reframes what is generally referred to as “rural broadband” into larger national economic issue.