Some of you have read the following before. It’s a quote from an article written my Michael Haaren for Broadband of America and it’s stuck with me since. Michael wrote: “Imagine living in a pedestrian community where you could work from home or walk to an eWork center. The center could have daycare, a cafe, shops, and a gym. You could eat locally grown food (think light carbon footprint and actual nutrition), patronize local businesses, and read to your daughter’s second-grade class. Your employer could be down the block, across the nation, or over the sea. “
This vision seems farfetched to some; a utopia that will never exist. But to my way of thinking the “work at home” movement is different. Employees are changing their behaviors and work styles right under our noses. Employees are taking advantage of the new technologies like never before. The realization that they can now work anywhere at any time has, whether the employer intended it or not, has changed how employees work and where they work. It’s also changed the types of services those employees envision a successful community would provide.
Think about it. 100 years ago was electricity and plumbing to the home expected services; 70 years ago were highways an freeways seen as a necessity provided by state and federal governments 60 years ago was there a TV and phone in every home; 20 years ago was a cell phone service available everywhere and anywhere; and just 10 to 15 years ago was broadband to the home seen as a basic, required utility service like water and electricity? Ok you get the idea. So what’s the next, basic, market need that will be commonplace in 10 years? What’s the next service communities need to provide?
How about communal or open work space. Or as Mike calls it eWork space.
Many companies have responded to this need, and to their desire to cut costs, by going to “open workspace” floor plans in which the employee no longer has a permanent workspace in the building. Recently the Wall Street Journal published an interesting article on this trend. The article focuses on American Express, which happens to have a large presence here in Phoenix. Although not mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article the Phoenix facilities have gone completely to communal workspaces. Other companies in the Phoenix market that have moved to this format, at least in part, are IBM and Boeing.
These are all large, Enterprise, organizations. And when employees do need to leave the home they may still be looking at a long commute. What about something closer to home? It seems to me that we may be missing an opportunity. In other words, what’s good for companies is good for communities too.
Here’s the last piece of the puzzle that I think should make local markets think. Jobs are being onshored back into the US today, and as the cost of doing business in India, China and the Philipines continue to rise that trend will continue. Politics is also driving this trend and politicians and constituents alike show distaste for their customer service supporting “American Products” being provided by non-american agents.
So where are those jobs going? Why shouldn’t they come to Phoenix, Gilbert, Chandler and Scottsdale rather than Dallas or Ft Worth? When companies are on shoring jobs into the home what kind of support are they looking for from the community? How does the work at home trend change how markets should look at economic developement? These are all valid questions.
Some markets like Calgary (that’s in Canada), the state of Virginia, Washington DC and Atlanta for example are ahead of the curve and considering this question. They’re providing the tax incentives and forming task forces with a focus on bringing these jobs into their markets.
One service markets should consider providing, like Boeing, IBM and Amex do for their employees, is semi- private open space work areas located in key local communities. In Mike’s vision he sees these “eWork” spaces being provided by housing communities so that they’re more convenient. But this service is also being provided by organizations like Liquidspace and OfficeScape. Regardless, the service allows companies to provide office space, as needed and more cost effectively, to its work at home employee base when working at home isn’t the right thing to do.
So, let me leave you with this. What would happen if markets made open space or communal work areas available? What if providing that kind of service or market support were put on the same level as providing other basic infrastructure needed by business like water, electricity, roads and technology? Would that improve the overall quality of life, reduce the cost doing business, speed up the deployment of new workforces and help bring more jobs to markets like Phoenix? I look forward to your feedback.