Self-driving cars. Scooters. The future of commuting to work is here

From crowdsourced shuttle buses to companies offering rides to lure top talent, here are concepts used in some cities that could one day help your morning commute.

Source: Self-driving cars. Scooters. The future of commuting to work is here

This is applying state of the art technology to the Industrial Age practice of transporting knowledge workers to offices rather than utilizing information and communications technologies of the Information Age to decentralize knowledge work, bringing it to communities where people live.

It may look like progress. But in fact it’s regressive and reflects a 1950s mindset wherein knowledge work can only be performed in centralized, commute in offices. It does little to relieve the daily time suck of the commute. It’s time to put the Industrial Age in the past and truly evolve.

Transition from Industrial Age to knowledge economy sparks debate over “remote” work

No one said the decades long transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age knowledge economy would be an easy one. Exhibit A is the debate over “remote” work spotlighted in this article in the November 2017 issue of The Atlantic and the extensive comment thread it generated on LinkedIn.

It’s not hard to see why it’s an either/or issue when framed as working remotely. Remote is a relative term to the other side of the dichotomy – the traditional commute in, centralized office. Hence, the debate is over the merits and demerits of working remotely versus working in the centralized commuter office (CCO).

It’s a natural one given how advances in information and communications technology (ICT) over the past two decades have rendered the CCO increasingly less relevant and decentralized knowledge work. For some organizations such as Automattic, developer of the WordPress web platform, there is no such thing as remote working because there is no CCO.

Essentially, the debate over “remote” versus centralized and co-located is part of the process of coming to terms with the ICT spawned disruption to the Industrial Age model as we move toward a new way of doing knowledge work.

It isn’t 40 hours a week of face to face brainstorming and chatting with colleagues at nearby desks that requires a trip to and from home each weekday with the state of today’s ICT and collaboration tools. Much thought work can be done individually and occurs 24 hours a day – including while exercising and sleeping. In fact, both regular exercise and sufficient sleep are crucial to strong cognitive functioning that drives creativity and problem solving. Both of those activities are too often impeded by the daily time suck of needless commuting. Particularly as commutes grow longer in congested, costly metro areas that force knowledge workers to live farther away from the CCO to obtain affordable housing.

Survey shows shift away from traditional employment “larger than previously recognized.”

Overall, we estimate that the independent workforce is larger than previously recognized: some 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population in the United States and the EU-15 countries are engaged in some form of independent earning today. More than half of them use independent work to supplement their income rather than earning their primary living from it. The majority of independent workers, both supplemental and primary earners, pursue this path out of preference rather than necessity—and they report being highly satisfied with their work lives.

This from the executive summary of a just issued survey by McKinsey Global Research illustrates the erosion of the traditional concept of employment, anchored by what author Dave Rolston described in his 2013 eBook Four Dead Kings at Work as the crumbling pillars of the traditional notion of working for a living: holding one job, located at one place, being there at the same time every day and reporting to a single manager.

As I wrote in my own eBook Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty-First Century, a driving factor is the decentralization of knowledge work due to the proliferation and maturation of information and communications technology. Before, knowledge workers had to work in a single location – a commute-in office – because that’s where the tools they needed to do their work – typewriters, telephones, photocopiers, in-house central computer systems – were. Even though obsoleted, this outdated model remains in place and continues to define employment. If you don’t commute to an office to work 8-5, Monday through Friday, you’re not in the traditional employment arrangement. Or “trapped in a cubicle” as the McKinsey Global Research report put it in the introduction.

We’re currently in a transition between this Industrial Age model of knowledge work that pays for time worked to one based on work projects and milestones completed. Time worked is fundamental to the legal definition of employment in the United States that keeps the Industrial Age model largely in place. It’s one of Rolston’s dying kings: one timeframe (8 hours a day, 40 hours a week) along with working in set office location for a single manager. But it won’t go away quickly as the tension between the old and the emerging models plays out.

Cities’ sprawl comes with a price in transit costs, commute time

The annual study on the cost of traffic congestion gets its share of publicity. A new one on the cost of sprawl deserves just as much attention. The authors say that while the congestion studies suggest the solution is to build more highways, they wanted to look at the price of land-use patterns that force people to travel farther to get from home to work, shopping and other destinations.

So City Observatory, an online urban policy think tank, put together what it calls a “sprawl tax,” which includes transportation costs, plus the excess hours spent commuting. The first analysis estimates that commuters in the nation’s 50 largest metro areas pay a sprawl tax of more than $107 billion a year, nearly $1,400 for the average worker. That total rivals the $124 billion estimate for the cost of congestion – time and money lost stuck in traffic.

Source: Cities’ sprawl comes with a price in transit costs, commute time

This opinion piece goes on to suggest the shopworn Industrial Age remedies of locating housing closer to jobs in central metro areas and beefing up public transit. But both are unrealistic, retrograde solutions.

Housing market economics typically attach a price premium to downtown housing that makes it unaffordable for many. Second, employment is changing and is far less permanent than it used to be. People stay in a home longer than with a given employer. Third, public transit use is dropping, not surprisingly so since it tends to lengthen rather than shorten the duration of commute trips.

In the 21st century, information and communications technology (ICT) makes it quite possible for knowledge workers to live and work outside of metro centers, improving their quality of life and eliminating the urban sprawl issue.