A year after the coronavirus sparked an extraordinary exodus of workers from office buildings, what had seemed like a short-term inconvenience is now clearly becoming a permanent and tectonic shift in how and where people work. Employers and employees have both embraced the advantages of remote work, including lower office costs and greater flexibility for employees, especially those with families. Beyond New York, some of the country’s largest cities have yet to see a substantial return of employees, even where there have been less stringent government-imposed lockdowns, and some companies have announced that they are not going to have all workers come back all the time.
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“We believe that we’re on top of the next change, which is the Distributed Age, where people can be more valuable in how they work, which doesn’t really matter where you spend your time,” said Alexander Westerdahl, the vice president of human resources at Spotify, the Stockholm-based streaming music giant that has 6,500 employees worldwide.
SEATTLE, May 13, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Where people choose to live has traditionally been tied to where they work, a dynamic that through the past decade spurred extreme home value growth and an affordability crisis in coastal job centers. But the post-pandemic recovery could mitigate or even produce the opposite effect and drive a boom in secondary cities and exurbs, prompted not by a fear of density but by a seismic shift toward remote work.
This is consistent with a long tern trend I discuss in my recently published eBook Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty-First Century. Before the maturation of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that enables knowledge workers to work from most anywhere with good Internet connectivity, the length of the commute to the office was a paramount consideration in terms of where people chose to live. ICT has reduced its importance since it shrinks time and distance. The personal computer is the automobile of the information economy and the Internet is the highway.
The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and social distancing out of centralized commuter offices (CCOs) demonstrated to knowledge workers and their their organizations it’s no longer necessary to commute every workday to a CCO.
We’ll see varying degrees of migration out of CCOs in the coming years. Some will continue to be used part of the week or as meeting spaces for larger gatherings. Other organizations will opt to go fully virtual and shut down their offices.
Finally, we have virtual reality coming in to totally upend things, perhaps rendering the commute obsolete altogether. There’s a reason Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion. Facebook sees the future of social interaction as happening through VR. Microsoft has already shown demos of people in completely different places physically, interacting seamlessly almost hologram-like in a way that’s both creepy and awesome (they appropriately call it Holoportation).Perhaps there are some lingering expectations of people being in the office part-time to build camaraderie (drinking virtual beer together isn’t as fun after all), but the five-day-a-week commute will be undesirable to employees — and to employers who want a recruiting advantage and prefer more workable hours for their employees and can offer it by eliminating their commute.
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Instead of having a few densely populated pockets like we do today, people are going to disperse because technology will make it easier to do so and it’ll be much cheaper to live. Real estate prices will shift — not just in San Francisco, but in every major city. And places that hold universal appeal (e.g. beachfront/close to mountains) will draw more people as a result.
Dan Laufer reiterates the thesis of my recent eBook Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty First Century. The maturation and continued evolution of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) such as VR conferencing will render the daily Monday through Friday commute obsolete by removing the last perceived barrier to avoiding working daily in a centralized office setting: the need to meet face to face.
As I write in Last Rush Hour, ICT will prove as a profound and disruptive force of change for residential settlement patterns as the automobile was at the height of the Industrial Age by dispersing people out of inner cities to the suburbs.
This is a must read from Andy Lake on the powerful forces reshaping when and where knowledge work gets done in the 21st century and how they will play out in 2016. All point to a shift out of what I term in my eBook Last Rush Hour as fixed “centralized commuter offices.”
Lake’s prognostications also touch on the tension such large scale change naturally provokes and the tug of war between the future and past practices such as a “rear guard” rebellion by cubicle rats sensing an existential threat to their nests.
Nilles’s solution to these contemporary concerns was telecommuting, but not quite telecommuting as we know it today—after all, this was before the advent of the Internet. He envisioned firms broken up into satellite offices, where employees could work remotely when they didn’t need to be physically present at headquarters.Instead of commuting to a central location downtown—and clogging up the area’s already congested streets—clerical workers would report to whichever office was closest to their homes to receive and complete assignments there. “Our primary interest, and the greatest impact on traffic and energy consumption, was reducing the commute to work,” Nilles says.
The authors wrote that “either the jobs of the employees must be redesigned so that they can still be self-contained at each individual location, or a sufficiently sophisticated telecommunications and information storage system must be developed to allow the information transfer to occur as effectively as if the employees were centrally collocated.” We know, with the benefit of hindsight, that both changes took place. (Emphasis added)
More than four decades after Jack Nilles penned these words (and years before the advent of today’s Internet), a “sufficiently sophisticated telecommunications and information storage system” now exists — thanks to the maturation and widespread adoption of information and communications technology. History’s stage is now set for a major reduction in daily commute trips to centralized, commute-in offices. That’s the primary message of my 2015 eBook Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty-First Century.
Information and communications technologies have swept across the globe and their economic impact affects every community throughout the United States. Not only has this revolution accelerated the growth in the information economy but it has also facilitated the rapid transfer of American jobs to other countries. As America struggles to find its policy footings regarding these swiftly advancing services and technologies, fundamental changes to social and economic structures are well underway. While classical views on the future of metropolitan communities, regional economic development and sustainability planning approaches provide strong emphasis (if not sole) on the transportation and mass transit infrastructure or focus on increasing densities, they exclude any mention of information and communications infrastructure as a tool for planning 21st century communities.
Source: Telecommuting USA: Stuck on the threshold of change | The Stack
As I argue in my book Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty-First Century, in this article Michael Shear also portrays the rapid development and proliferation of information and communications technology as a hugely disruptive socio-economic force. It’s obsoleting the twentieth century, Industrial Age pattern where people live in one community and commute to another to work. Now they can work in their communities, either at home or in local shared office space that Shear terms “distributed workplaces.”