Our first test of telecommuting in 1973 was based on the idea of setting up offices near the homes of a company’s employees. The idea was to reduce or, better, eliminate the need for the employees to commute to their company’s headquarters. The information technology available in the mid-1970s was too primitive to allow employees to work from home so we called these new workplaces satellite offices. As the technology improved in capability the name morphed into neighborhood offices to give a more intuitive feel for their purpose.
Since then there have been several attempts to recreate satellite/neighborhood offices in various places around the world. Possibly the most recent of these ventures is the WeWork series. WeWork’s offices are generally located in or near city centers while the prospective users of the space are typically scattered fairly randomly around the region. So while the need for ad hoc office space may be satisfied by these central workspaces, the need for significantly reduced commuting is not. Home-based telework clearly wins the commute-reduction battle.
Continue reading The return of the neighborhood office?
About 22 years ago I wrote a paper* about the impact, if any, of telecommuting on urban sprawl: that steady creep of suburbs outward around large cities. The paper was based on our measurements, over a period of two years, of residence location changes made by telecommuters. The idea was to test whether telecommuting acted to increase urban sprawl by making it easier to live farther from one’s workplace.
The answer was negative: although the median per-telecommuter annual mileage saving was 2046 miles, the household move distances were essentially a wash—some moved a bit farther away, some nearer to work. So our conclusion was that telecommuting doesn’t affect urban sprawl. Case closed.
Now comes an Op Ed piece by Paul Krugman in the 29 July 2013 edition of the New York Times. Titled Stranded by sprawl, the article explores the relation between urban sprawl and joblessness. Krugman concludes that part of the reason for persistent joblessness among lower income families is that their homes are not where the jobs are and the transportation system, such as it is, doesn’t make it easy to get to jobs. The greater the urban sprawl the worse the problem gets.
This brings us to part 2 of the urban sprawl conundrum: use telecommuting to alleviate the impact of urban sprawl! Successfully send the work to the workers instead of failing to get the workers to the workplace.
Continue reading Urban sprawl revisited