remote work cities 2

Remote Work and Cities, 2




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Covid-19 is transforming people’s relationship to work, with millions now out of a job. And many more are getting used to working in a very different way.

The proportion of Americans working from home full-time has gone from one in fifty (1/50), to more than one in three (1/3).

Philip Coggan, Columnist, The Economist: “Covid has been a transformation. And that raises a whole bunch of questions: do you need as much expensive office space? And do individual workers need to commute into the office every day?”

The need for workers to gather together in offices has shaped almost every aspect of modern life.

And the shift towards remote working could have far-reaching consequences. It could alter the shape and purpose of cities, affect gender equality, and even change how we think about time.

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The modern office emerged along with the Industrial Revolution, when people migrated to cities in search of work.

Philip Coggan, Columnist, The Economist: “Factories required everyone to be together so they could take advantage of the powered machinery that started to bring everybody into cities where they could work together and easily walk to the places where they worked.

That in turn led to the growth of the office system to manage all those companies.”

Early offices were organized into rows of desks for clerks, overseen by a central manager, mirroring the production line on the factory floor.

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And two hundred years later, despite the rise of the internet, the basic function of the office persists.

Philip Coggan, Columnist, The Economist: We made the leap from seeing that people could communicate via electronic means by emails, by shared documents, without realizing that didn’t mean that everybody had to be in the same place.

We’ve had twenty odd years since the internet and office design is really only starting to reflect the real possibilities of that change.”

The uncomfortable truth about offices is that they are expensive and inefficient. Companies spend on average ten-thousand dollars $10,000 on office space per employee every year.

The most expensive office real estate is in Hong Kong, where every square foot (0.093 meters square) costs on average, two-hundred and sixty-five dollars ($265) per year. Beijing and London are the next most expensive locations.

The need for social distancing in the wake of the pandemic could reduce the number of staff in London offices by two-thirds — making the office look like an expensive artifact.

Philip Coggan, Columnist, The Economist: “I’ve talked to companies that say they’re thinking of maybe using two floors in the building instead of four. Or maybe using regional offices as small sub-offices so that not everybody has to commute into a big city.”

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The idea of workers clocking in and out at the same time every day also dates back to the Industrial Revolution. Before that, people were paid based on how much they made rather than the amount of time they spent at work.

And if the office ceases to be the center of working life, the idea of working set hours, from nine-to-five, will become less meaningful.

Philip Coggan, Columnist, The Economist: “We may willingly work on a Sunday or Saturday afternoon if that’s more convenient for us. We’re shifting back again to people being paid for their function and not for the time they turn up.”

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Tech companies are leading the charge towards remote working. Twitter has already said its staff need never come back to the office if they don’t want to. And Facebook says half its staff could be working remotely in a decade.

These types of highly skilled, highly paid roles have a disproportionate impact on the economy. They are known as knowledge jobs. And where they are physically located is important, as they support entire ecosystems of other jobs around them.

Alice Fulwood, Wall Street Correspondent. The Economist: “For every knowledge job, five other jobs are dependent on that job. Some of these are very high skilled like lawyers and doctors. But most of them are lower-skilled, jobs like baristas, yoga instructors and other urban services.

Once you add up the services they contribute, the majority of Americans are employed in a way that it means they are dependent on knowledge jobs.”

Although it’s impossible to know exactly how many other roles are supported by these so-called “knowledge jobs,” if they were to become remote positions, it would have a profound impact on the jobs they support in the wider economy.

But this isn’t a one-way-street: knowledge jobs are such powerful drivers of the economy because they are usually based in cities.

Alice Fulwood, Wall Street Correspondent. The Economist: “Because knowledge jobs tend to be located in cities is they depend heavily on the individual agglomeration effect: when you put lots of people together, they come up more productive.

So Americans living in agglomerations of a million people are fifty percent (50%) more productive than the ones living in metros with smaller populations. The question for knowledge workers is whether you can replicate those productivity benefits with a looser relationship to a city or to no relationship to a city.”

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Those able to work from home are a privileged minority. And in general, the higher a country’s GDP per head, the more people are able to work remotely.

In Cambodia, just eleven percent (11%) can be done remotely, compared with forty-five percent (45%) in Switzerland or thirty-seven percent (37%) in America.

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But the work from home revolution is having a particularly pronounced effect on some groups within the workforce: women are more like to work in face-to-face roles, and so they have been disproportionately affected by the recession caused by covid-19.

In previous recessions, men have generally been more likely to be laid off, as they are over-represented in manufacturing and construction. This time around, more women in America have lost their jobs.

And those who have kept their jobs have extra challenges: mothers are now interrupted mover fifty percent (50%) more often than fathers.

But the normalization of home working during the pandemic could also have long-term benefits for some female workers.

Alice Fulwood, Wall Street Correspondent. The Economist: “If remote work becomes this way of working that has no stigma attached to it, then I think that requirement that you drop everything and be available all the time, these very high-powered careers will slacken slightly, and that might be a good thing for women to help them break through.”

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Although offices are sitting empty, corporate leases can run for as long as a decade. And there has not yet been rush to sell office real estate. So the office in some form looks set to survive the pandemic.

Alice Fulwood, Wall Street Correspondent. The Economist: “I’m skeptical when people say, ‘Oh well we’ve proved that we can do it from anywhere.’ I’m like ‘Well just try and do it for a year and we’ll see if you are as productive you were.’”

The global experiment in remote work has shown there are some things that are hard to foster online, like corporate culture and creativity. And these will be the mainstays of the post pandemic office.

Philip Coggan, Columnist, The Economist: “For younger workers, they make friends and connections and network where they can get on in life later on. It’s very hard to build a kind of esprit de corp in a company for people who haven’t met.

Offices will be less of a prison cell, and more of a collaborative area, more of a games room where you go to try to shoot the breeze with your colleagues and come up with something different.”

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It may feel like the pandemic has revolutionized working life. But in some ways, it has simply come full circle: before the Industrial Revolution, there was no working week, no nine-to-five, or fixed workplace for many people.

And thanks to covid-19, this may be closer to the way things will look when the world emerges from lockdown.

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0.59 Swiss Frank. The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally altered the way many people live and work. True or false? How have things changed?

0.63 Swedish Krona. If remote work or telecommuting become the norm, will it only affect the workers and their families?

0.72 Pound sterling. Did the modern work office originate after World War Two? Was its layout and format completely different from the factory floor?

0.84 Euro. Is there something odd or strange regarding the internet and work?

1.00 US dollar. The pandemic has revealed or exposed something in financial terms. What is it?

3.86 Polish zloty. What is the current and future trend? Who is at the forefront of this trend?

5.43 Brazilian real. “They support entire ecosystems.” What does this mean, both literally and figuratively?

6.51 Chinese Renminbi (Yuan). What is the “agglomeration effect”?

7.90 Turkish lira. All economic booms and busts have affected men and women equally. Is this correct or incorrect?

20.65 Mexican peso. Will offices and the nature of work remain the same after the pandemic?
31.56 Thai Baht. Do you work remotely from home or at a company? Do any of your friends or colleagues work from home?

72.47 Indian rupee. Approximately what percent of the jobs in your company or organization can be performed remotely?

74.08 Russian ruble. Would you and your friends, coworkers and neighbors, prefer to work from home?

77.20 Afghan afghani. What are the advantages or benefits for society of more people working from home?

91.64 Argentine Peso. Are there any disadvantages or drawbacks of remote work?

1,257.68 Syrian pound. What might happen in the future?

22.3 X 10^10 Venezuelan Bolivares. What should companies, businesses, governments and employees do?

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