One Thing Silicon Valley Can’t Seem to Fix – The New York Times

The built environment of the Valley does not reflect the innovation that’s driving the region’s stratospheric growth; it looks instead like the 1950s. Looking at aerial views of midcentury campuses like the Eero Saarinen-designed Bell Labs next to contemporary ones like Apple, it’s nearly impossible to tell the midcentury structures from the 21st-century ones. Designing job centers this way contributes mightily to the region’s ever-worsening traffic. If you found yourself stuck on Highway 101 between San Francisco and San Jose, you’d really see what Silicon Valley looks like for many. Building campuses on isolated suburban tracts guarantees long commutes, and this is one of the worst in the country.

Source: One Thing Silicon Valley Can’t Seem to Fix – The New York Times

Kudos to Allison Arieff of The New York Times for raising this issue as I have many times in this space. I’ve also noted the irony that Silicon Valley’s legendary information and communications technology (ICT) innovation has effectively obsoleted the 1950s centralized, commute-in office (CCO), yet the region remains mired in commute traffic.

As Silicon Valley tech pioneer Bill Davidow pointed out in his 2011 book Overconnected, those office complexes came about because the “killer app” of the 1950s was a combination of pavement (freeways), cheap gasoline and the automobile that made it possible to work in another location far from home. Now ICT allows knowledge work to be done anywhere, eliminating the need to move bodies over highways every work day to CCOs. That’s a real killer app for our time to slay commute traffic congestion — in Silicon Valley and other metro areas.

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.

ICT, declining role of CCO forcing redefinition of knowledge work

The maturation and proliferation of information and communications technology (ICT) is upending the concept of knowledge work. During the late Industrial Age, knowledge work meant working Monday through Friday 8-5 in a commute-in office. If a knowledge worker made the commute and showed up every workday, 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week — ipso facto they were performing knowledge work. As Dave Rolston wrote in his 2013 eBook Four Dead Kings at Work, these strictures of time and place are breaking down.

In the process, that collapse is forcing a redefinition of knowledge work to mean, well, work and specifically the work product — and not a daily trip to appear at a centralized commuter office (CCO). After all, that daily commute adds no intrinsic value and in fact extracts significant personal cost from knowledge workers that can reduce their morale and interest in what really counts – their work projects.

The current time is one of transition away from Rolston’s dying kings of the traditional workplace. Take, for example, the growing buzz on workplace flexibility and telework or virtual/remote work. It represents a shift away from the CCO and illustrates the tension between the traditional CCO and new, emerging ways of performing knowledge work beyond the CCO.

The CCO took many decades to be established and knowledge organizations have invested enormous sums in them. So even though ICT has effectively obsoleted them by distributing knowledge work outside the CCO, they won’t disappear overnight. But their role will fade as time goes on. In the meantime, a new definition of knowledge work will be formed that is independent of the CCO.

Life ‘inside the box’: A Google engineer’s home in a truck at company headquarters – The Washington Post

As his tagline goes, “home is where you park it.”

Source: Life ‘inside the box’: A Google engineer’s home in a truck at company headquarters – The Washington Post

This illustrates the absurdity of Google’s centralized commuter office (CCO) in the San Francisco Bay Area where housing costs are dear.

“Telework” is outdated in age of location independent work

There are still a remarkable number of offices filled with modern-thinking people, trying to solve modern day issues that look like they were constructed in 1984. And while I love nostalgia as much as anyone, you don’t see Google and Facebook flaunting photos of high, padded cubicle walls and flourescent lights. Why? Because they want the most out-of-the-box, creative and collaborative employees working on their future-thinking initiatives.One of the biggest barriers I face in my work, promoting workplace flexibility, is the notion that employers think I’m talking about sending everyone to work from home. Again, “telework”, a term coined in the 70’s is also antiquated. It is in fact rooted in the notion that you have to be anchored somewhere to work, which is just not the way your average employee operates in 2015.

Source: Transforming the Workplace | Calgary Economic Development

Robyn Bews nails the transformation that’s taking place in how knowledge work gets done. She makes a key point I discuss in my book Last Rush Hour: the terms “telework” and “telecommuting” are based on the Industrial Age notion that knowledge work must be performed in what I term “centralized commuter offices” or CCOs for short. Under this outdated paradigm, “tele”working in another location is the exception rather than the rule.

For once and for all, please stop with this ‘death of the office’ stuff – Workplace Insight

Even hugely disruptive factors such as the proliferation of co-working space appear to be nothing more than an important new addition to the market.

The reasons for this attachment to creating places to bring people together are explored in typically lyrical fashion by the incomparable Neil Usher here. All that remains to add is that so long as people work on the same things and need to develop relationships, they’ll want to share physical space.

Source: For once and for all, please stop with this ‘death of the office’ stuff – Workplace Insight

Of course the office isn’t dead. Knowledge workers will continue to need them. However, the maturation of information and communication technology (ICT) in the 21st century is redefining the office. The office no longer has to be in high cost towers in urban centers — what I term in my book Last Rush Hour as centralized commuter offices or CCOs.

For example, the co-working office space to which the author refers enables knowledge workers to avoid the enormous personal cost of commuting to distant CCOs when these co-working facilities are located in their communities. There, they can serve multiple organizations and their members residing in a given community.

I concur with the author that people naturally want to develop relationships with their colleagues and ideally share physical space. But for knowledge workers, that’s not necessary on an 8-5, Monday through Friday basis. Much work can be done apart from colleagues along with the benefit of quiet concentration. Collaboration can be done via ICT and avoid the major expense and time suck of daily commuting.

A Toxic Work World – The New York Times

Still another woman wrote to me about her aspiration to an executive-level position and the predicament of doing so with a 2-year-old at home: “The dilemma is in no way the result of having a toddler: After all, executive men seem to enjoy increased promotions with every additional offspring. It is the way work continues to be circumscribed as something that happens ‘in an office,’ and/or ‘between 8–6’ that causes such conflict. I haven’t yet been presented with a shred of reasonable justification for insisting my job requires me to be sitting in this fixed, 15 sq foot room, 20 miles from my home.”

Source: A Toxic Work World – The New York Times

So writes Anne-Marie Slaughter of the outdated notion that knowledge work requires a separate, time-defined space in a centralized commuter office (CCO). Her correspondent is right: there really isn’t a logical rationale. It’s Industrial Age custom and practice and no longer necessary and appropriate in the 21st century when the information and communications technology tools knowledge workers need to do their work are widely accessible outside of CCOs. These tools disintermediate the time and distance constraints that place an unneeded and heavy burden on individuals and families.