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.

No going back to the office: Death of kings of industrial age knowledge work being hastened by pandemic

Lifestyle changes take about four to six months to become established habits. For organizations, the time scale is considerably longer. And years for society as a whole. The principle is new habits and ways of doing things must be repeated over sufficiently long durations in order to become firmly rooted. Once they have, a break with the past has been achieved and change has occurred.

The social distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the rapid virtualization of knowledge work as working in crowded cube farms and centralized commuter office (CCO) spaces was not conducive to controlling the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The course of the pandemic in much of the industrialized world will likely play out over roughly an 18-month-long timespan.

That’s long enough for organizations to grow accustomed to working virtually, especially since some were already doing so well before the pandemic’s public health restrictions hit in spring 2020. Knowledge work has been undergoing a fundamental shift for years, disintermediated by information and communications technology (ICT) that no longer requires a set time and place for performing it.

In his 2013 book Four Dead Kings at Work, author Dave Rolston identified four rulers of knowledge work in the industrial age: set job duties performed under a single manager at one place (the office) and the same time (8-5, Monday-Friday). The pandemic has hastened the death of at least two of those monarchs: time and place. By the time it ends around the middle of 2021, it’s likely few knowledge organizations will use their office real estate as they did before the pandemic. Working virtually without co-locating staff in office space during set business hours will have become an ingrained habit by forced adjustment. There will be no going back to the daily commute to the office habit. Knowledge organizations will look to downsize their office real estate footprint and more rationally utilize it.

For many, elements of existing office space offer smart conference rooms to better enable complex presentations, deep discussions, brainstorming and strategizing. But sprawling square footage of offices and cubicles will no longer be needed. The space could end up being converted to residential living space placed on the housing market or to house staff and guests attending those presentations, deep discussions, brainstorming and strategizing sessions when spread over multiple days. Other possibilities include recreational and fitness facilities, theaters and food services.

Knowledge workers can do without the daily commutes or the office furniture, observed Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO of GitLab, at the CNBC Workforce Executive Council virtual event. But as social beings in an organization, they require camaraderie, he adds. That can be had virtually as well as face to face in other brick and mortar settings such as eateries and conference centers, both of which have been severely adversely impacted by public health restrictions and will be looking for a post-pandemic bounce. Organizations and work teams can convene in them on a less than daily or weekly basis and carry less office space costs on their books.

Shift out of centralized commuter offices a long term trend

What will COVID do to housing? Home builders, city planners and market watchers say the jury is out on whether the COVID-19 pandemic will in fact prompt deep long-term changes in Sacramento communities. Will more Sacramentans move to the suburbs or to the hills for elbow room, figuring they may no longer have to deal with a congested commute to downtown offices? Will home prices continue upward, making home ownership increasingly elusive for many? Is it time for home builders to chop up their open-floor plans and begin building sound-proofed offices and home gyms? Or will the COVID era fade by next spring if a successful vaccine arrives, sending state workers back to downtown offices, people back to fitness centers for their workouts and families and friends back out to restaurants, bars and clubs? “Is this just a 2020 thing, or a 2025 thing?” University of the Pacific economist Jeffrey Michael said.

Source: Coronavirus, home prices send Bay Area families to Sacramento | The Sacramento Bee

It’s actually a 21st century thing. Information and communications technology advances are replacing the roads and highways of the 20th century when knowledge workers needed to commute daily to centralized, commuter offices (CCO). No more. They can begin their workday as soon as they get up and have a cup of coffee rather than an hour to two later after arriving at the office.

This is a long term trend. Public health infectious disease control measures put in place with with current pandemic accelerated it. The gravitational pull of the CCO was already weakening.

Working against the trend is a persistent belief that the best knowledge work requires knowledge workers to be in the same place every day — the office. Face to face communication is important since knowledge workers like other humans are social beings. Reinforcing those social connections however does not require a centralized workplace and the hassle and time suck of the daily commute since meetups can be most anywhere and anytime that’s convenient. What’s needed now as this story suggests are homes with dedicated office space. Also neighborhood co-working centers within walking or cycling distance. Performing knowledge work in the 21st century need not involve turning the key to a motor vehicle or boarding public transit as it did in the 20th.

Trump Versus Telework: Federal Policy Retraction Will Cost Government Millions

Last week, the Washington Post reported that “President Trump’s government is scaling [telework] back in multiple agencies on the theory that a fanny in the seat prevents the kind of slacking off that can happen when no one’s watching.”

Source: Trump Versus Telework: Federal Policy Retraction Will Cost Government Millions

What we’re seeing is a clash between the traditional definition of knowledge work – seated in a chair in a centralized commuter office (CCO) after taking a vehicle to work – and the inherent constrained capacity of 20th century transportation systems in metro areas to accommodate that mode of working.

Organizations can insist all they want that knowledge work can only be performed in CCOs 8-5, Monday-Friday. But roads and highways are fixed, limited real estate that cannot flex to accommodate all the rush hour transportation demand that generates. The result is crippling traffic congestion, a giant time suck and numerous adverse effects on organizations and knowledge workers.

In the 21st century, information and communications technology replaces the pavement and the vehicle to bring knowledge work to the knowledge worker. We need to adjust our thinking and expectations.

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.