8 years ago I wrote an email to a group of friends on the coming telepresent workforce, at the time 2006 there were no smart phones. The mobile internet was a dream still being built and mostly based on the old web 1.0 technologies rather than the emerging mobile web that would debut once the Iphone was released later that year.
My focus in that email was to explain why it was so important to harness the idea of a telepresent workforce, a workforce of agents working from where ever they felt most comfortable the chief reason being that when the mobile internet was fully built and the necessary secure communication infrastructure for business transactions to happen over it using distributed working agents the costs for maintaining human labor pools in offices would appear disproportionately large compared to the potential gains had by letting these workers work from their preferred locations.
Later I explained how once freed from location the next barrier would be to eliminate the temporal hegemony that existing knowledge workers , even those who are able to work from home must still be confined by. The 9 - 5 clock or what ever fixed interval of time that people are expected to be productive over....I saw this as absurd going back to 2003 when I started building the Action Oriented Workflow paradigm and in this 2006 email after having implemented the explicit workflow routing algorithm of AOW I was letting out a little bit of what the future I was building was going to make possible for the world.
An excerpt from the blog post in 2008 that compiled this email:
"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."At the time, the focus was on the fact that the need for these physical locations for people to do work would disappear but what happens to all of these properties? What happens to hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space in large cities across the globe?
As companies radically reduce the property costs they maintain in order to keep people working in offices the building owners will have to find ways to continue to gain revenue from those properties. They will increasingly be forced to either raise prices on those companies that continue to lease from their buildings in order to stay afloat...which will only drive those companies faster into a telepresent mode by embracing AOW technology OR they can take all that space and re-design it so that people can actually live in these properties.
One only need look at down town areas of any large city to notice what happens to them after standard work hours, they become ghost towns as people evacuate to their homes often in non urban centers further out....but an amazing gift of the telepresent transition to emancipated workers is the real estate owners will have to be adept at noticing the transition as companies break leases or cut lease duration contracts. This critical time of global down shifting in the commercial real estate market as a result of work force emancipation enabled by action oriented workflow technologies is inevitable.
It is already happening virtually as many companies that otherwise would shifted to buying offices once a certain number of employees have been reached are now remaining as disembodied corporate entities but still making large gains in revenue in their core businesses by harnessing their employees using telepresent technologies of the current paradigm....the non holistic variety that still remain orders of magnitude less efficient than action oriented workflow based systems to come.
So when is the time line for this real estate chaos period? I predict the transition will occur when AOW driven services continue to knock down verticals by reinventing them using the new paradigm as the underlying base. As the inventor of the technology I have some ideas on how this will proceed but other players are working on slivers of the problem and are enabling disruption in various industries at the moment though all those are still physically labor intensive for employees and as such less likely to gain major efficieny until those human labor elements are completely replaced by fully autonomous robotic ones...a period I don't see happening in those industries for 20 years.
As for the other industries, solutions to transform them from the current hegemony of time paradigm to a paradigm that allows people to maximize their value landscape while providing their capability on their own schedule rather than that of a given employer are planned in my road map to deploying services on top of the AgilEntity framework which is the first to implement an AOW implementation.
So ultimately the rate of transition will be coupled to the verticals that are identified for greatest potential growth should they be switched to an AOW driven base. I expect that much of this will take as well 20 years to play out at the least and so I don't think the real estate chaos will seem like chaos at first....as companies become more lean and require less physical space, commercial real estate will have to change the use of their spaces to accomodate human habitation and recover value from those properties.
In the long term this may recover for them far greater revenue in fact than the current paradigm as many office buildings going silent at night prevents them from being potential revenue draws for other sources of revenue for the building owner. Office buildings can be vertically integrated with amenities for living such as day care centers, dry cleaners, restaurants and shops within the former office towers....these could be paid for by fees levied to the new tenants. Also the space requirements for tenants and families would allow multiple points of extraction by providing services to tenants not unlike the cleaning services of hotels.
The smart real estate owners should be thinking about these ideas now as with the acceleration of the global economy from one where human physical labor requires presence to one where robot labor replaces human physical labor and human mental labor requires no presence re-purposing the vertical gold that even today remains mostly unused for half the day would be a huge advantage.