How Will Telecommuting Affect Society? It’ll Change Where We Live

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how will telecommuting affect society

We here at VC Daily believe that telecommuting will set you free.

If you’re living where you currently live in order to be close to work or future job opportunities, telecommuting will change that. Think of your favorite place in the world. You can live there instead. As long as it is equipped with decent internet coverage, of course.

You could live somewhere closer to your family or to the hometown you thought too small to host serious career ambitions; somewhere warmer; somewhere nicer for the kids; somewhere overseas where they make amazing wine and cheese; somewhere more exotic; somewhere quieter.

It’s not a fantasy. Millions of people currently work remotely, beyond the office. And millions more will do so in the coming years. If telecommuting continues to grow, and if people are given the choice to live wherever they want, the technology could change the world.

Virtual Work, Real Homes

First, let’s get you up to speed on the facts:

  • 9 million U.S. employees work from home at least half the time
  • Telecommuting rates have risen 115% in 10 years
  • It is more popular than public transport in half the top U.S. metro areas
  • The biggest employer of telecommuters is the U.S. Government
  • Businesses save $11,000 annually on each telecommuter
  • A third of surveyed business leaders believe half their workforce will work remotely by 2020

The growth is set to continue. Amazon recently pledged to add 5,000 work from home jobs by the end of 2018. The Hilton hotel chain has announced a new work-from-home initiative. More than 45,000 companies currently offer flexible and telecommuting jobs.

It also seems that telecommuting is good for both employers and employees. British Telecom reported productivity increased 20% through telecommuting, while 90% of home-based workers claim they are happier than when they were office-bound.

The trend is clear, and it is driven in part by the fact that the necessary technology is affordable and easy to use. Quality webcams now cost less than $100, high-speed broadband connections are common, and the apps that host video calls, like Skype, Zoom, and BlueJeans are free or cheaper than a Netflix subscription. So if all this is coming, how will it change society in general?

How Telecommuting Affects Our Future

We’re obviously not on the cusp of a dystopian sci-fi future of empty subway systems and deserted highways. However, if the 25% of Americans who telecommute to work some of the time start doing so all of the time we’re going to see a difference on the street. It would conservatively reduce traffic by at least 10-15%, which is good for everybody except the drive-thru restaurants.

Those fast food eateries that people enjoy on the way to work–and the cafes and restaurants they frequent on lunch hours–have a very real problem to face if a quarter of the workforce stops dropping by. These are the kinds of issues that crop up once you start imagining a world in 2030 or 2040 when perhaps half the workforce stays at home.

People already have access to on-demand movies, online retail outlets, live-streamed music festivals, live-streaming social media apps, and video dating apps. So if we’re not gathering at work, either, where will we see each other in the person in large numbers? Perhaps telecommuting will drive down the number of movie theaters, festivals, shopping malls, and strip malls. Even more intriguing, and perhaps disturbing, is the question of what becomes of our major cities, if we’re not drawn to dense central business districts for job opportunities?

Will Telecommuting Kill Our Cities?

Our cities aren’t fixed monoliths that will never fade. They are living places dependant on the daily ebb and flow of workers and the businesses that grow up around them. We’ve seen already how removing a human workforce can disrupt even major cities like Detroit. A big downturn in the auto industry, or in older fields like mining, logging, and manufacturing, ripples out across a city’s entire population. Telecommuting could be just as disruptive to how we live, and it’s always possible that cities could empty out if the telecommuting trend continues and stabilizes.

But that’s not the only option, either. It could unclog congested cities, reduce the burden on urban housing, and force retailers and related business to be smarter, and greener, in how they attract and serve customers. And while it might give people in dense cities some breathing room, it doesn’t have to empty them. Perhaps, instead of seeking out cities mainly for job-related purposes, workers will want to live in cities for their walkability, history, proximity to culture, and the convenience of having friends and attractions nearby. It might spur an increase in the already popular co-working spaces that are popping up around the country, where people can gather in spaces that are prettier and friendlier than your typical office building in order to work in proximity to one another (and drink unlimited coffee!). Perhaps, the majority of office buildings will become co-working spaces, with rooftop gardens where people can enjoy the sun and take a break to chat with someone nearby about the projects they’re working on.

The biggest upside to all this is that telecommuters can live wherever they please. Instead of choosing a city for the jobs it has, we might choose a city instead for its climate, or its quirkiness, or the fact that we have friends or family there. Or we might not choose cities at all. Want to escape the city for good and live and work by a beach in Spain while raising your children on tapas? Do it. Want to live on 50 acres in Montana with the nearest town miles away? No problem.

We have drones delivering food, we have virtual doctor apps, and we have school field trips by video conference. With so many areas of our lives being streamlined by video conferencing and virtual reality, driving 30 minutes to the office each morning seems as smart a way to spend your time as driving headlong into an office building.

It might not happen next year, or the year after that, but mark our words: telecommuting and working via video conferencing will change the world by first changing the fundamental characteristic that defines us–how and where we live.

Image Source: Flickr CC User Michael Coghlan

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