The telework tide is changing everything else

Thanks to the pandemic, acceptance of telework has become a tide that is changing many other things. It has washed out the status quo antes in many industries that once were highly centralized. A full return to that status quo, highly prized by many senior executives, is becoming less likely every day.

And then there are the side effects, some of which I have touched on in earlier posts. Some may be revising the shape of cities and transportation practices. Hopefully, one side effect is a decrease in global warming. Here are some thoughts.


Now that many of us are working from home, at least part time, we aren’t using the transportation network as much. We have also changed transportation modes, going from driving to walking orbiting to our destinations. Increasingly, we are switching to electric vehicles rather than machines run by fossil fuels.

The Economist, in a 19 May 2022 article titled Travel patterns have changed for good. Transport systems should, too, writes:

Although travel is likely to recover a little further, a return to the pre-pandemic pattern seems implausible. One clue is that not all journeys have declined. Parisians made more shopping trips last summer than they did before covid appeared. In New York Sunday travel has held up better than weekday travel. What has collapsed is rush-hour commuting, particularly among well-paid workers in the knowledge economy. That suggests the change in behaviour is caused not by fear of infection—which might be expected to diminish over time—but by a fundamental resetting of work habits.

Clearly, this doesn’t change the physical structure of cities overnight but it does force growing changes in behavior and allocation of resources. Villages, towns and cities still will act as foci of collated physical resources, such as food, entertainment and materials but will become less important for daily living. Businesses that once were concentrated in central areas will move or clone themselves to be in neighborhoods of sufficient size to attract enough customers. Road networks will rearrange themselves to serve the more diffuse distribution of homes or, conversely, to serve more but smaller centers of activity.

This might act to realize an urban structure we used in our 1973-74 telecommuting project [See The telecommunications-transportation tradeoff for details]. Hopefully, all of this will not increase urban sprawl.

Climate and electricity

Along with these changes should come another important shift: a distributed electric power system that will both supply the growing amount of electrification that will replace fossil fuel use and decrease local vulnerability to weather disasters. That is, many more solar array rooftops. This is crucial because as we change from dependence of fossil fuels to dependence of electricity we are also changing out vulnerability to electrical interruptions.

Therefore it is important to stress further development in power networks and energy storage methods in order to make that transition go smoothly. In the drought-prone southwestern US, for example, dwindling hydraulic power from dams will need to be replaced by something — batteries, for example — to keep power levels even. Many utilities and government agencies are working this problem; hopefully hard enough.

Test yourself

The Financial Times has published an intriguing game for you to try your hand at designing the future under climate change. If you believe yourself to be an expert in the field I urge you to try The Climate Game although you may need to be a subscriber to the FT to do it. Full Disclosure: I have yet to make it to the end without going bankrupt.

Good luck!

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