The Changing Way We Work & Live – part 2

Urban Decay

Urban Decay (Photo credit: pmorgan)

The previous post showed how technology is enabling location independence for the workforce for the first time since the Industrial Revolution created the need for urbanisation.

Smart devices, such as smartphones and powerful tablets, are providing people with the ability to be fully productive at customer sites, from home or wherever else the demands of the role take them, with sales of these devices outstripping those of PCs for the first time in 2011.

Estimates vary widely, but it seems that at least 10% of the workforce today works from home rather than in an office, and estimates are that this could reach as much as 60% in a decade. What’s more, contrary to what many employers feared, it seems that working from home increases productivity noticeably – some 10-15%, in fact – due to people working longer with fewer breaks and having less interruption.

But this location independence has far wider implications, too:

  • Equipment purchases – concomitant with location independence, people want to have their own choice of devices: the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon.  Initially concerned about the security implications of people using their own devices, companies have realised that the cost savings more than compensate for the additional security/monitoring required, and the employee is happier, too. Of course, this has ripple effects on the supply chain as companies no longer need to buy large volumes of end-user equipment due to the users purchasing their own, normally from the retail channel. This is exacerbated by a move into the cloud and companies consequently no longer needing as many servers and storage systems as they simply use these “as a service” from the cloud providers – again impacting the supply chain for such equipment.
  • Pervasive communications – of course, for location independence to work, people need access to fast communications links wherever they are. This is continuing to drive the roll-out of faster, cheaper mobile and fixed-line communications throughout the country. This trend will continue – more bandwidth, cheaper, driving the need for even more as applications increasingly take advantage of whatever is available. Inexpensive, or even free, video conferencing is quite normal now – replacing meetings in offices – and the use of vide for demonstrations, sales tools and so on fuels an ongoing demand for even more.
  • Housing prices – one issue that’s seldom mentioned when talking about location independence is the impact on house prices. As people need to cluster less around major metropolitan areas to work, so this must impact prices in areas that were in very high demand for the reason of convenient access to work. Could this be the catalyst that finally bursts the London property bubble? Could it also cause prices to increase in more remote, cheaper areas as people opt for quieter spots? And then what about the impact on transport – less commuting means fewer passengers on the trains and tube. Not only might this mean people actually getting seats when commuting, but it may force the operating companies to reduce prices to try and attract people to use the services.  The socio-economic impact of this location independence could be huge.
  • Holidays / Leave – another interesting result of the increasing move to people working from home is the effect on holidays and leave. Not only is it increasingly difficult to monitor when people are “at work” or not, the lines are also blurring between work and leisure time. All of this creates headaches for companies when it comes to such things as people taking time off. A number of companies, particularly in the USA, are now moving away from formal leave allowances and the administration that goes with this, opting instead for employees being able to determine their own leave requirements, provided they get their work done. Not only does this further improve motivation and morale but improves company balance sheets as they no longer have to provide for paying out against untaken leave – and for large companies, these amount can be substantial.

Just as the Industrial Revolution led to urbanisation in the 18th and 19th centuries, could technology and location independence lead to the reduction of these large conurbations in the 21st century?

One thing’s certain – work will never be the same again.

Note: I first posted this on the Business Connexion blog on 4 Mar.

5 responses to “The Changing Way We Work & Live – part 2

  1. Pingback: The Changing Way we Work & Live – part 3 | Whit's End

  2. I really liked your post , very informative.I would agree with Catrina that more and more people are working from home and me being one of them.I use lots of video conferencing for my business and save lots of cost and makes my business much easier as my clients are all around the world.

    • Many thanks, Philip – I’m glad you enjoyed it. I must say, I’m looking forward to a time when I commute less 🙂

  3. Thanks, Catarina – the interesting thing is that many studies on companies that have introduced working from home options have found productivity increases of 20-30% (yes, I know that Yahoo! recently stopped it, but I suspect that was more about deeper problems at the company that Marissa Mayer was trying to sort out).

    There’s no question that getting together in groups from time-to-time for specific projects, discussions, etc., and even a bit of “water-cooler time” can be beneficial, but this doesn’t need to be an everyday occurence – imagine the savings to companies (space, etc.) if only 20% of people needed to be in the office at any time, apart from the productivity gains and increased morale of those working from home…

    As technology makes video conferencing cheaper, easier and more pervasive, there will be an decreasing need for such physical meetings, too (some will still be better together – at least for the foreseeable future), reducing still further the need to commute and for massive cities.

    The potential impact on cities and infrastructure are fascinating to think about.

  4. Am certain that more and more people will work from home, Guy.

    As you mention there are many positive aspects of doing so. However there is a huge negative drawback – some people simply haven’t got the discipline to do so. But they just have to find that discipline since in the future employment will be rarer and rarer.

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