As a general rule of human civilization, we’ve lived where we work. More than 90 percent of Americans drive to work, and their average commute is about 27 minutes. This tether between home and office is the basis of urban economics. But remote work weakens it; in many cases, it severs the link entirely, replacing spatial proximity with cloud-based connectivity. What knock-on changes will this new industrial revolution bring?
During our working lives, my wife and I have paid keen attention to commute times. Because commuting is intractable once home and work are established, it needs to be dealt with upfront. Way too many people commute extraordinary distances and/or for extraordinary amounts of time on a daily basis. The 27 minutes average is just that—an average. The typical range is 19 to 46 minutes, usually due to uncontrollable factors like traffic and weather. (For what it’s worth, my wife’s commute is 8 to 12 minutes and mine is 3 minutes.)
The pandemic changed many elements about work. One is that it normalized remote work. Everybody knows how to Zoom now, and that mass technology adoption means it’s likely to be normal and standard. In my own business, we were already remote-savvy. During the pandemic we went remote-only. Coming back, we’re either going to be remote-first or remain remote-only. We may even add fees for clients who insist on in-person meetings. In person meetings are comparatively are unessential and inefficient, and we now have a year of data to prove that.
The other notable thing, and Thompson covers this, is the new disconnect between home and work locations. If my work is remote, why am I living near the office? (Taken further: Why do we have an office? But let’s not go there just yet.) Why am I not living, well, anywhere in the world I want so long as it has high speed Internet? I think a lot of people are starting to have that same thought.