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the increasingly telepresent workforce...

The following ideas were written in email on 12/16/2006, I thought it an interesting topic to start are post on here. Any thoughts? How do you think technology will change how we commute ???

Increasingly businesses are seeing the power of decentralizing their businesses so that expensive large monolithic central offices will no longer be required. We have the pieces coming into place, secure remote access to business locations, instant communication in the form of cell/IM/conferencing, pending high bandwidth pipes (FTTP) to people's homes and nearly ubiquitous wireless access and increasingly electronically run business processes in all types of businesses.

All these factors when fully employed in the business world will mean a much lower need for physical office locations and workers AT those locations, which means cut costs on maintaining such properties, paying rent, paying utilities and hiring repair and maintenance folks.

This means vast reductions in commuting workers and reduced electrical demand at least over small regions (you'll still increase it over the larger metropolitan area but larger areas tend to be serviced by multiple power grids, reducing the likelyhood of peak collapse for the collection.) 10 years ago the birth of the purely internet driven business inspired the concept of businesses mostly run online, this allowed the early players to rapidly become revenue competitive with their brick and mortar counter parts.

However traditional brick and mortar businesses had not begun to move in the opposite direction (toward the internet model) the continued rise of the distributed internet business in the form of web services/SOA/ssl VPN driven initiatives will make the need for big office towers significantly reduced. Even as businesses grow in employees the need to provide physical locations for those employees will dwindle and I predict essentially disappear. (Imagine the day you go for an interview and a prerequisite of the job is that you work from home but that you dont' have to worry about having a pc and pda, the company will provide it FOR you.)

There will be a time when the top brass of businesses actually come to work (ironically) more often than the lesser employees, everyone else will be mandated to work from home all or part of the time to save money. (Such people will alternately share an office or cubicles when coming in to further save money.) So in response to the pure internet players of a decade ago who showed that corporations could thrive without huge investments in physical offices, brick and mortar companies will move slowly to be less brick and mortar and more pure from an internet perspective.

Of course there will be exceptions to this trend, companies that require the physical presence of people (manufacturing, utilities, construction, human services, food,dry cleaning..etc.) will continue on with their marginal growth curves (relative to what is predicted for knowledge workers) but I don't think they will change the outcome as the city has been on a downward spiral for such jobs for decades now.

I think existing brick and mortar businesses are going to see this change over to a telepresent work force as viable and cost effective within the next 5 - 10 years, the transition being facilitated by increased broadband penetration to homes and the aforementioned building of agile secure distributed business systems that do not require physical presence for knowledge workers to do their jobs.

  (Edit: 3/14/2008 Businesses starting out today can already take advantage of these economies if they have the facilitating software to ensure every aspect of business can be managed and performed in a secure and distributed fashion. Collaboration needs to be integrated with workflow in currently non commercialized ways to open up a new category of hyper efficient run businesses. )
What does this have to do with NYC growth? Well , the window for the predicted choking of our city on people is well beyond 10 years time, for the reasons mentioned I don't think as many people (those that currently commute to work) will need to live IN the city as the projections in the article indicate. I assume (without data to support the claim) that most workers in the city are indeed knowledge workers as opposed to people that prepare goods for sale or who's physical presence is required for rendering a service. Knowledge workers will simply need to have access TO the city and it's businesses and that will become increasingly possible for the reasons described before.

Still there are people that need to come to the city, those that keep the city (first responders, utilities, infrastructure supporters) these people will use the infrastructure regularly but the growth in their numbers will be tied to the size of the city and if businesses aren't building any more towers , there will be a reduced need for the city to provide the infrastructure conduits to get the people that man the towers to the towers.


Pulling Tin said…
I like the idea. This is a well thought out revenue generating, cost reduction, and profit making idea. Does not get any better than that. Taking your idea a step further I wonder how this extra time of not commuting everyday spurs innovative connectedness in one's community. Maybe a group or workers meet at a coffee shop and work together. maybe a group of friends meet to go to work, but all work at seperate companies. Image the idea sharing that would go on.

I like it I just would not want to lose the human connectedness you do get from a brick and can leave the other stuff behind.
Unknown said…
Keith, the way I see it is that as the business takes on the agility of interaction that we have in our personal lives by allowing people to work , whenever and from where ever, it will relax the demands on workers. This will make their productivity greater over time, since the pressures that exist in current brick and mortar business environments simply will be non existent. The psychological power given an employee who does not have to punch a clock can not be underestimated. I think the key to flourishing the connectedness of community that you refer to comes from ensuring that the business ties in seamlessly into the employees lives in an unobtrusive way. This is done by ensuring that business requests come in quantized chunks of action against business objects. This allows the very operations of the business processes that the employee may be engaged in to be metered as well as simultaneously metering the performance of the employee in either handling the action request or forwarding it on to an employee or system that can handle the request. By metering both the action and the performance simultaneously, the need for separate facilities is obviated and a great deal of inefficiency is eliminated. At the end of a work cycle, the precise number of actions delegated to an employee for a given set of business processes can be tabulated and compared to the completion or redelgation of those actions by that employee, allowing an assessment of employee productivity to be created that is purely based on the work they did and if they did it within the bounds of the requested action parameters.
Remember that the chief gain to the business is that it no longer needs to provide baby sitting for employees in formal offices, the costs of such infrastructure over time form a huge fixed cost that if eliminated allow the business to reinvest profit into the business to expand products or services. If the employees are happier working as they please and productivity improves as a side effect, there is now a doubling effect on the benefits derived by the business. Essentially, the task is to have a system in place that is agile enough to facilitate individual action monitoring for every stage , of every possible business process on any possible business object. It needs to also provide collaboration between employees that is also fluid in a way that current solutions simply are inadequate for, allowing ad hoc but secure interaction between employees interacting on business processes or between employees and outside partners. It sounds like a nearly impossible set of things to generalize into software but I believe my company has succeeded in realizing precisely this type of system. I'll be presenting more information on the specifics of the solution in the coming weeks.

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