This is a transcript of my speech originally delivered as part of a Talk Boutique SpeakEasy training camp in June, 2019
This year we will spend 7 billion hours taking people from home to work, to back home.
I consider myself so very lucky for the journey that I take every single day, going from home to work. I get up in the morning, give my kids a hug, and I step outside the door. Outside, the dew on the ground is still wet. There’s that sharp bite of the cold from the night before. I hop on my bike, go down the path and eventually reach the lakeshore. The sun is rising up over the horizon and it’s starting to warm up. It’s such an energizing and invigorating way to get to work - it starts my day off on the right foot.
Along the way I also get a chuckle at the people in their cars - the hundreds of people that I pass. The people in the bus that are all scrunched up and desperately trying to avoid eye contact. I bet some of them like their journey as well too. But that chuckle usually fades away and gives way to frustration. Frustration at the waste that represents. Those people in their cars, in the transit, or me on my bike are not spending time furthering our careers. We’re not spending time with our family, and we’re not spending time building our businesses.
In the 1960s it’s estimated that about 3 billion hours of effort were spent putting somebody on the moon. Three billion hours of thought leadership, scientists, engineers and Daredevil’s to put somebody from Earth on to the Moon. What an amazing achievement. Three billion hours.
This year we will spend 7 billion hours taking people from home to work, to back home. More than twice the effort of going to the moon. To me, that represents a massive missed opportunity that we can do something about. I want to talk to you today about how distributed workforces can change the way we think of what the modern office should be. We can change the way we commute, where we commute to. We can be more productive and have more time on our hands, and have a better quality of life.
Be an advocate to be a part of a distributed workforce.
If you are an office worker today you’ve likely experienced your commute getting longer, more expensive, and more unpredictable. You’ve made serious choices - maybe you’ve had to move further away from work to have a lower cost living or a better quality of life resulting in a longer commute. You no longer have a work-life balance - you have a work-life-commute balance. You’ve experienced tough choices of having to move to a more expensive job that you may not like just so that you can be in the place that you want to live in the cities. Rents go up, housing prices go up.
Imagine for a second that your commute consisted of walking outside your front door and walking down the street with your neighbour to a dedicated residential office space. This office space is within walking distance of your home. It’s fully connected to your company. It’s fully connected to your teams and maybe you have an office that’s bigger than your current boss’s office today. You’re able to walk home for lunch, you have a coffee in your local coffee shop instead of overpriced one downtown. You have a quality of life because you’re spending time in your neighborhood. You’re spending more time being productive working at your craft or spending time with your family.
Be an advocate to be a part of a distributed workforce.
Take your office and make it an inspiration.
As a business owner or department manager you’ve experienced staff getting burned out by longer and longer commutes. You’ve experienced staff leaving your company who have been loyal for years because their life has changed and they needed to move further out of the city and they just can’t bear the commute. When you’ve tried to replace those people and you find that you had to pay an absolute premium for less experienced people who live around your office - if you can find them at all. This is hurting your business. The loss of productivity is growing - there are more sick days than ever before, more work from home days than ever. If you want a competitive edge you really need to adopt a distributed workforce strategy.
Take your office and make it an inspiration. Take away the desks and put in a lecture hall. Put in a user experience lab. Put in a training center. Give your employees purpose to come into the central office - whether that’s a town hall, a design sprint, or an intensive work group session - have a purpose for bringing those people together. Don’t bring them there for the daily grind. Adopt a distributed workplace strategy.
Take the rest of those billions of dollars and put them into education, healthcare, sciences, and research - things have move society forward, not from place to place.
As a city planner you’ve heard the calls for “more transit!”, “more subways!”, “more buses!” and “more roads!” to move people around. Yet you know that will not have an effect for 10 to 15 years. All those billions of dollars will never be enough to catch up with the demand.
Take some of that money and start building communities. Create incentives for developers to build offices in residential areas that fit in well. Empower the communities to grow themselves. Take the rest of those billions of dollars and put them into education, healthcare, sciences, and research - things have move society forward, not from place to place.
I will still do my journey in the morning. I will still get up and go out the door and enjoy my journey, but I want one single thing to change during that journey. I want the destination to be back in the neighborhood that I choose to live in. I want to be more productive. I want to pursue my craft more and I want to be there for my family more often. I want to spend less time going from place to place and more time contributing.
If we change what a modern office is into be a place where we can do work, and to be a place where we occasionally need to come to a place to plan work, we can reclaim some of those 7 billion hours and we can do amazing things with that.