In January and June I wrote about the impending glut of office space in downtown areas. This is the result of the widespread adoption of telework starting with the Covid crisis. Now, more than three years later, it appears that the teleworkers remain resistant to full-time work in those central offices. Although the number of days they do come to the downtown office have increased, the average appears to be between two and three days per week. City centers clearly need remodeling.
So, the dilemma remains for the owners of all these office-dominant buildings. In many cases rental income is not just down, it’s seriously less than expenses. The problem has expanded to other areas as well. Businesses that depended on the daily influx of all those office workers now find that the flow has been cut at least in half. Once crowded sidewalks are now almost empty. Shops have been closed. Tax income has dropped for the cities. Crime rates in downtown areas have increased. The central cities as we knew them seem to have died.
But the buildings are still there. All that expensive real estate still exists. It would be foolish to just let it rot. So, what should we do to save the situation? Here are some ideas.
Continue reading Remodeling central cities
I remember, in the early 1970s, wondering about the impact of widespread telecommuting on CBDs (Central Business Districts). How might the CBDs be transformed by that? What would the CBD’s roles be then?
But my first priority in 1973 was to discover whether telecommuting worked at all in the real world; never mind the chances of millions of home-based telecommuters suddenly popping into existence.
I recall drafting a paper on the optimum size of cities being around 500K-800K population. My reasoning was that this mid-size could preserve most of the key characteristics of big cities without all the nasty side effects like traffic congestion, air pollution, etc. Those key characteristics included a large enough tax base (based on property) to provide basic services including transit plus art and entertainment centers and other facilities that tend to make a place unique. The paper remained as a draft and I never got it published.
Continue reading Telework and City centers: imagining the futures
A major activity these days involves the struggle over hybrid work; deciding the split between working at home and in the office. Many teleworkers want to do it at home full time. Most employers are more concerned with getting them back into the office at least some of the time. The big question is: how much of each works best.
The answer, of course, is: it depends.
Here’s an intro to the topic, courtesy of ChatGPT. When I asked the AI about the overall personal requirements for successful tele/remote-working, here’s what I got, in about 40 seconds.
Continue reading Hybrid tele/Remote-work: Determining the split
As a consequence of Covid, telework acceptance is undergoing a damped oscillation on a global scale. Of course it has been doing this at organization scales since the mid 1970s but now it is visible everywhere. Here is the process.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, oscillation refers to a process in which something starts to vary by changing radically in, say, a positive direction, going to a maximum value, then changing course to the opposite direction, reaching a minimum value, then repeating the cycles forever.
A damped oscillation is a process in which each additional cycle past the first one is progressively smaller in size, slowly fading away until it reaches equilibrium. Typical examples are echoes, the sound from a struck tuning fork or piano string, and the like. But more complex processes, like organizational behavior, can also show damped oscillatory behavior. Newly introduced teleworking is one such process. Here’s how it typically works.
The Covid example
Imagine an organization going along, minding its own business, when suddenly a disaster strikes. A disaster like Covid. Immediately everyone understands that, because of the infection dangers, it is very important to isolate the employees from one another wherever possible. If the organization is primarily information focused and technologically prepared, all employees are sent home to work. Thus begins the first transition.
Continue reading Telework: Showing A Damped Oscillation
When I started my research into telework my goal was to reduce the time and energy spent in the daily commute to work in a world where commute distances and times were steadily increasing. As global warming accelerates it is time to look at the bigger picture: energy tradeoffs in a distributed world.
At the heart of this concept are distributed networks as initially developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense (now called DARPA). Their core idea was that, to avoid being shut down by attacks on key facilities, distribute and interconnect the facilities so that removal of one or more won’t affect the operation of the whole network. The system just works its way around the damage point. The Internet grew from that start.
Here’s a brief look at four types of network-related tradeoffs in the world’s growing dominance of electricity.
Continue reading Energy tradeoffs in a distributed world
Since I last checked on the post-Covid impact on central offices, the trend appears to be stabilizing. It appears that, nation-wide, chronic central city office vacancies are running about 50%. And there’s the rub. The situation may be fine for telecommuters and their employers but it’s bad news for the commercial real estate business and for the impacted cities themselves. A fix for central cities clearly is needed.
This situation is a result not of fear of covid but of the attraction of telecommuting. Well-paid, that is valuable, information workers prefer to work from home at least half-time. And they are insisting on it. Their employers have discovered that their bottom line actually does improve rather than suffer when their staff telecommutes at least part time.
In addition to the productivity jump, part of this improvement is the result of reduced facility costs. Downtown office space is expensive so the best strategy is to use as little of it as is necessary. Sometimes a wait is required before renewing/dropping the lease for space but the reduction is clearly happening.
What to do?
Continue reading Telework and Fixing the central City
Now that we’ve arrived at a new year it’s time to consider what might be coming up with respect to telework and climate change. The short answer is that the future of telework looks rosy while the future of the climate continues to be grim. Further, although telework is looking good some of its disruptive side effects are definitely appearing. While global warming continues pretty much unabated, reductions in the rate of increase appear on the horizon.
Here are some details.
A major side effect of the Covid pandemic was the almost instant rush of office workers from downtowns to home offices. Now that Covid is essentially over in the United States and Europe, if not in China, many tradition-minded executives demanded that their employees return full-time to their central urban offices. That usually didn’t work. Those millions of workers who have experienced working from home for more than two years are resisting going back to the old ways full time.
Continue reading Near Future Estimates: Telework and Climate
October 2022 marks the 49th anniversary of the coining of the words telework and telecommuting. The occasion was the receipt of a grant from the National Science Foundation to my research team at the University of Southern California. The title of the grant was: “Development of Policy on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff”. My fellow researchers included professors Paul Gray from the Graduate School of Business Administration; Rick Carlson from the School of Engineering; and Gerry Hanneman from the Annenberg School of Communication.
Our overall objective was to see, in a real-world setting, whether running a dispersed workforce interconnected by telecommunications and computer technology, could be made practical. Our test laboratory was the west coast division of a major national insurance company. We ran an active test for several months and, on its completion, decided that our objective had been met and the test was a success. We wrote a report of the project to the National Science Foundation in 1974 and, with John Wiley & Sons in New York, published a book on it in 1976 titled “The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff: Options for Tomorrow”.
Then the real struggle began.
Continue reading Telework’s 49th anniversary!
It’s time to review some of my comments of 2020 in light of recent events. So here is an account of city centers revisited: updated to 2022. I said in 2020 that there would be an exodus of office workers from city centers for two reasons: covid-19 and the ease of teleworking. Indeed that happened worldwide. City centers that normally were bustling became deserted even in mid-weeks. I also predicted that, as Covid-19 dangers eased, some office workers would come back to their former offices full time — but most would not. So far that prediction has held in 2022.
Here’s some of what has happened, as reported by various news media.
Continue reading City centers updated
Summertime is here. In many places it’s here with a vengeance. Heat waves are roasting Europe and North America. It’s clearly time to consider telework in summertime. Here are some comments.
Britain breaks heat records
In mid-July British authorities published “red” heat warnings for the first time ever. An overheated Summertime. Temperatures reached 100F in London, the Midlands, the south of the UK and Wales. Records were broken in several cities.
Now, for Texans, this doesn’t sound too unusual but consider the infrastructure in the UK. Houses and offices are built to retain heat not get rid of it. Ditto for subways. Neither are adapted to hot summers. Consequently the traditional commute to/from work is enervating as is much time spent in an non-airconditioned office.
Continue reading Telework in Summertime