Despite Remote Work, Rush Hour Returned – Bloomberg

Source: Despite Remote Work, Rush Hour Returned – Bloomberg

The upshot of this piece is the potential bifurcation of knowledge organizations. One group staffed by those who live close in to urban centers where commutes are relatively short and can be done by foot powered transportation and public transit. These organizations have established “downtown” urban identities and convening cultures based on face to face interaction among staff, clients and vendors. They’re deeply invested in gleaming steel and glass office towers by virtue of ownership or long term leases.

Staff who commuted from the outer suburbs and distant reaches of metro areas who worked at home during pandemic public health measures are not going to be inclined to give up the equivalent of another workday as commuting time. That could lead to a sorting of personnel, with only those who fit into the organization’s let’s meet downtown culture remaining and the rest departing.

For suburban office parks, it’s a different story. A Houston transportation planner quoted in the article notes they serve merely as workplaces and lack the cultural vibe of the downtown office-based organization. For staff and consultants of these organizations, daily work activity of “sitting 8 hours a day drafting something or tapping a keyboard and interacting minimally with people,” can easily be performed in a home office.

The Pandemic Blew Up the American Office — For Better and Worse | Stanford Graduate School of Business

Rather than letting individual employees simply choose when they will come into the office, companies should implement an organized approach, Bloom argues. “If this is well managed, you can have the best of both worlds,” he says. “But my advice to firms is to decide this centrally. A mixed mode can be pretty terrible if some people are working from home and others are in the office.” Companies could, for example, cluster group activities, such as planning meetings and client presentations, on “in-office” days.

Source: The Pandemic Blew Up the American Office — For Better and Worse | Stanford Graduate School of Business

This is from Nicolas Bloom, a professor of economics with the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

While not directly, Bloom is essentially redefining the office from being a regular workplace used by set people at set times to an ad hoc meeting and presentation setting. It comes as knowledge organizations continue to struggle to determine which days a week it function as a regular workplace as social distancing measures are relaxed amid mass immunization against COVID-19.

As an ad hoc meeting location for group activities, former centralized, commute in offices can function on a downsized basis as meeting locations to provide opportunities for face to face collaboration that managers and many knowledge workers find useful to supplement working alone. Confabs and presentations could be multi-day functions. Staff who live far from the office could be lodged nearby and return home after the function has ended.

The experience of the past 15 months has shown workers no longer need to sit in a cube farm 8-5, Monday through Friday in order to do their work when they can accomplish it whenever and wherever work can get done.

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.

Pandemic forced organizational change, shattered Industrial Age boundaries defining knowledge work

Pandemic social distancing restrictions served as an organizational change intervention, forcing knowledge industry organizations to reassess their cultures and beliefs about how work gets done. Pandemic restrictions virtually overnight switched off the gravity that pulls knowledge workers into a centralized, commute-in office workspace. As those restrictions are lifted amid mass immunization campaigns, knowledge organizations continue to confront these fundamental questions.

For most knowledge organizations, their cultures are strongly rooted in the belief work is being definitively performed when people are present in the office, reinforced by social connections made there and functions such as group lunches and celebrations. The organizational hierarchy is visually represented and reinforced in the office layout, with managers assigned corner and window offices and the rank and file in cubicles on the inside of the floor. A knowledge worker’s manager is clearly identified on the organizational chart. Clocks on the wall define when work is expected to be done.

A decade before the pandemic, author Dave Rolston in his 2013 book Four Dead Kings at Work predicted the death of these anchors that traditionally defined the boundaries of knowledge work in the Industrial Age: 1) One centralized workplace; 2) A single manager; 3) Performing a single defined job and pay grade; 4) At the same time each week.

The pandemic hastened their death requiring organizations to flex or abandon them. The elimination of the centralized office workplace and the erosion of the 8-5, Monday through Friday work time diminished the first and last of the kings, bookended by the daily commute. After more than year of foregoing commuting, knowledge workers have realized the enormous personal time burden it imposes, taking time away family, community, and health promoting behaviors such as adequate sleep, exercise and home cooked versus takeout and restaurant meals. Not to mention clothing and transportation costs.

This realization within knowledge organization has major implications for where knowledge workers will live in the coming decades and for traditional urban planning predicted on centralized settlement and development patterns forming sprawling metro areas requiring ever longer commutes.

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.

The Rise of the ‘Office-Savior’​ | LinkedIn

Rather than having countries that having thriving individual cities at the expense of the collective whole, remote work enables a renaissance of smaller cities and towns which people desert, leaving behind friends and family, in search of opportunity. Unfortunately, what people often find is that opportunity comes at a far higher cost of living.

Source: The Rise of the ‘Office-Savior’​ | LinkedIn

This is an important point. Rather than the binary debate over workplace settings (home or centralized commute in office) the larger issue is really about community. Some argue the office is a community for many. Working outside of it erodes that sense of community and for some, even family.

But knowledge workers spend most of their lives in their residential communities and with their immediate families. Time and distance separates the two. That gap is growing bigger as knowledge workers must live in communities farther from the office where they can afford housing, spawning so called “super commutes.”

Information and communications technology (ICT) and most critically fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure bridges the gap and as the author notes, more broadly distributes knowledge work to smaller, less costly and crowded communities. That also comes with benefits of a better quality of life and more personal time freed up instead of commuting every day.

Another way the tyranny of time and distance between home and office is being addressed is bringing residential and work communities closer together. Which makes sense in in California’s Silicon Valley replete with large corporate campuses, making them akin to college towns. Google, for example, is proposing to build a residential community there.

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.

History will judge Frances Cairncross’s predicted “death of distance” correct

The irony of America’s tech-fueled brain drain is that the internet should have freed us from location-based employment and helped disperse high-skilled tech workers. In her 1997 book The Death of Distance, British economist Frances Cairncross heralded the ways that digital technologies, particularly the internet and mobile phones, were “killing location” and “loosening the grip of geography.” For Cairncross, one of the many implications of ubiquitous internet access was that “companies will have more freedom to locate a service where their key staff want to live, rather than near its market” and employees “will gain more freedom to live far from their employers.” Reality proved far messier.

Cairncross says she “misjudged” the extent to which concentrated labor markets matter in the knowledge economy, because they provide an available pool of specialized skills and other agglomeration benefits. So rather than decentralizing the American labor pool, the rise of the internet and digital technologies had the opposite effect: It accelerated its concentration. The face of this change is the San Francisco Bay Area, which consistently ranks as one of the most congested and expensive regions in the US. But a similar scenario is playing out in Denver, Boston, Seattle, and other major tech-driven metro areas.

Source: How Smaller Cities Are Luring High-Tech Talent | WIRED

Despite her misgivings, I believe history will ultimately prove Cairncross correct. Knowledge work is currently in transition between the centralized Industrial Age when the automobile and high speed highways made it possible for office workers to work daily in communities far from their homes to an emerging decentralized “work anywhere” mode.

The trouble in the San Francisco Bay Area and other metro centers the high speed highways that made commuting a breeze in the 1950s and 1960s aren’t so speedy anymore and overcrowded with too many knowledge workers during the morning and evening commutes. Building more highway lanes only induces more commute trips. Autonomous vehicles can’t solve the congestion because there will always be a limited amount of pavement over which they can travel. Mass transit isn’t the answer either given the differing schedule and location circumstances of knowledge workers and limited practical range that has served as a perpetual disincentive.

Of course, there is nothing that beats the natural inclination of humans to socialize and exchange ideas that drive the information economy co-located, face to face. The question is whether doing that every work day remains practical in congested and expensive metro areas given the personal time and economic costs extracted by daily vehicular commute trips. These trips are lengthened by housing market dynamics. Affordable homes are often located at the periphery of metro areas.

Information and communications technology provides the best alternative means to perform knowledge work. And yes, there still needs to be old style in person social interaction. But that can be obtained at training sessions, symposia and social gatherings. Commuting should be confined to getting to and from these events and not daily to a centralized, commute in office.

ICT poised to revolutionize knowledge work as profoundly as the automobile and freeways did in the 1950s.

Gov, like an increasing number of Californians, has an extreme commute to her job. She works in communications at a non-profit organization about 30 miles away, up the notorious 405 to Santa Monica. On good days it takes an hour and a half each way, on the worst days it’s two and a half hours each way.“It’s literally like a part-time job,” she said. Gov’s boyfriend has a similarly long commute into Los Angeles. They wish they could live closer in, but homes closer to their jobs were way out of their price range. To afford to buy here a lot more people are living like Jenny Gov – spending more of their day in ever worsening traffic, leaving little time to spend with family and neighbors, coaching little league or exploring the wonders of California.

Brian Taylor, an urban planning professor who directs the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles said the housing crisis has exacerbated the dilemma in recent years, as new housing construction has lagged in parts of the state where well-paid employment in our more knowledge-based economy has multiplied.

Source: High Home Prices And Congestion Shrink The California Dream – capradio.org

Image result for los angeles traffic congestionChances are Ms. Gov is a knowledge worker and perhaps her boyfriend is as well. When Los Angeles freeways first opened in the 1950s, it was possible to get anywhere in the basin in about 20 minutes. Now they are so clogged daily commuting has become unbearable. It’s no longer as feasible to live in one community and work in another as it was in the golden age of the California freeway, the L.A. car culture and cheap fuel. Nor does it any longer make sense to spend hours commuting to use a computer in a centralized commute-in office.

Now on the threshold to the 2020s and beyond, a shift as profound as how the automobile and the freeway defined daily work life is at hand. It’s Internet-fueled information and communications technology (ICT) that makes it possible to do knowledge work in the communities where knowledge workers live. That gets them off the freeways on work days and would likely make a sizable contribution to improving the region’s notoriously poor air quality. Not to mention the quality of life of lots of Californians who as this story reports find the California dream elusive as they spend much of their lives engaged in long commutes.