Oil prices, “telecommuting” and working near home

by Paul Carder on January 19, 2016

by @paulcarder

Whilst reading for my next PhD task, an old reference just popped up…the origin of the term “telecommuting” (Nilles, 1975). Full references in my footnote.

Jack M. Nilles was the Director of Interdisciplinary Program Development (I like that already… 40 years later, still very much in need of these guys!), Office of Academic Administration and Research at USC, Los Angeles.

In his 1975 paper, he says: “Our research at the University of Southern California (USC) included an investigation of the technologies required for “telecommuting.” A telecommuting network has computational and telecommunications components which enable employees of large organizations to work in offices close to (but generally not in) their homes, rather than commute long distances to a central office.”

This is often referred to as the first mention of “telecommuting”. But perhaps more interestingly, note the part which most people who reference this four decades later omit:

“…offices close to (but generally not in) their homes…”

Sometime later, that part was lost, and people started to put telecommuting together with working at home. Why? – well largely because, in effect, we all “telecommute” today, all the time. In 1975, if you needed to work with someone, then you (or they) had to travel to get together. Or use the telephone.

Reading the footnotes to Jack Nilles’ paper, at the time it was mostly about the oil price, following as it did shortly after the 1973-4 oil crisis (OPEC embargo)…and way before most people had heard of “sustainability”. Nilles base in Los Angeles is still slave to the car today, but in those days there really was no choice other than commuting – to drive to your office, work all day, and drive home.

In 2016, who would have thought we would see the oil price tumbling? But we all have a far more pressing reason to find a cure for commuting: sustainability, of course. And we really do have the choice – in fact many options – to work in different places, using a whole variety of technologies. How long does it take for this message to permeate the seemingly impervious corporate cultures where people must be ‘seen’ to be assumed to be working?

Just one last nugget… nearly missed in the footnotes, Nilles writes: “Some major national corporations already have video conferencing networks connecting regional offices”. …in 1975! And beneath, he lists the first reference to the “video telephone” (Dickson & Bowers, 1973). Really? Wow!

So why can I still walk around most offices and not find corporate video conferencing or video phones? …just those old plastic desk phones. Even though, almost everyone has video conferencing in their pocket on their iThingy. Possibly not connected to the corporate network though…ho hum.

I guess these things just take time, right? …or is it something else?



Nilles, J. M. (1975). Telecommunications and organizational decentralization. Communications, IEEE Transactions on, 23(10), 1142-1147.

Dickson, E. M., & Bowers, R. (1973). The video telephone, a new era in telecommunications: a preliminary technology assessment. Program on Science, Technology and Society, Cornell University.


Try the 4-4-2 fortnight

by Paul Carder on January 8, 2016

by @paulcarder

This has nothing to do with football (soccer). That’s lost a few people who found this via Google search!

I have mentioned this a few times in presentations and various seminars, but realized that I have not actually written it down. So here goes…

Very simple: 4 days a fortnight in “the office” (provided by your employer; where you are probably “based”), 2 days a fortnight working at home, and 4 days a fortnight in some “third place”. The latter is what really interests me. “Third places” can be a whole variety of places, some specifically designed and marketed for working at, and others used for working and a mixture of other activities.

The 4-4-2 fortnight seems to me to be a proxy for what is happening amongst corporate-employed knowledge workers. The numbers will vary, over different weeks, but I’d like to bet that there are many professionals, managers, sales staff and others who are pretty much doing this right now.

There are some roles (not many) which are stuck at 10-0-0. They are at their contractual ‘place of work’ every day. They have no chance to work from home, or anywhere else. Those of us who are fortunate to have the flexibility to manage our own diary, travel, and work in a variety of places, we rely on the “anchor” go-to people on 10-0-0 fortnights. We all rely on Karen in my cluster at UWE Bristol, as we know Karen is in the office, and generally knows what is going on. We have a large team, no secretaries (remember them?) but one very good Exec PA, Karen.

There are home-based workers who, let’s say, come into the office once a week, and are therefore at 2-0-8. So, for 8 days in the fortnight they do not use the corporate office, do not need a desk, and in return do not suffer the commute in and out of wherever. Their commute is lengthened only by walking the children to school, or stopping off to buy a coffee. No trains, planes and automobiles for them…most days anyway.

For a great short film (<5 mins) see Two Lives by WorkplaceTV on YouTube. It is a funny, but absolutely correct, interpretation of two work days – one commuting, the other working at home.

Where is everyone else on this simple spectrum?

Some people don’t like working from home, for a variety of reasons (they get bored, lonely, feel disconnected, worried their work will not be recognized, etc.). For some, therefore, the 10-0-0 is a preference. I had that situation for about one year, when my company moved offices out of London and only six miles from my house. For once, I was ‘in’ nearly every day, and never worked from home. Others just like the routine, or even the ‘time-out’ on their commute. I have a friend who commutes 1.5 hours each way, every day, to and from London. He reads a lot of books! He wouldn’t change that. He loves the ‘buzz’ of London, and his office (where he gets up to all sorts of mischief) but he wouldn’t live in London. So he enjoys reading a lot.

NearDesk – “a million people working near home one day per week”

I share the vision of Tom Ball, CEO and founder of, to get “a million people working near home one day per week”. Or more, perhaps?

For many people, working at home is either not an option (“home” is too small, or shared, or busy/noisy) or not a preferred option, for the reasons stated above. But neither is commuting ‘preferable’, for reasons of time, stress, cost, or environmental consciousness (which is only going to increase, with commitments made by world leaders in Paris recently).

Working near home could be a win-win for all parties: employers, governments and the working population.

Tom’s vision could be described as 8-2-0. Or, 8 days a fortnight in the corporate office, and 2 days working nearer to home. Then there are many people for whom one day a week at home is fine – not too isolating or boring. Then we get to 6-2-2. And so it goes on… all permutations are possible!

Try the 4-4-2 fortnight, and do let us know how it went!

Try it with your team.

Sit down with the team and explain the idea. Tell them they can work at home. Or at some “third place” (companies like Near Desk can provide many options, and issue cards to your team members which allow them to be charged for the time they use).

What is your team average before you start? Doubt it is 10-0-0. Most teams have someone working occasionally at home, or somewhere else.

The challenge is to get the first number in the sequence down from 10! 8-1-1 may be an initial target? That equates to one day a fortnight at home, and one day a fortnight in a third-place. Across a team, some people may work at home, and some in a third-place, once a week…the number comes out the same of course.

I wonder who will get to 4-4-2 first. Whoever does, depending on distance (!) I will gladly come to your office with chilled champagne…albeit, you will not all be ‘in’ the office 🙂



(by @paulcarder co-founder @occupiers)

London’s Financial Times reported this morning, “The worst London Underground strike in more than a decade saw millions of Londoners struggle to get to work”. It is chaos, here in the UK capital – the top global city in PwC’s Cities of Opportunity ranking. It is a sorry state of affairs, as in a scene reminiscent of 1970s union-crippled Britain, the “workers” representatives couldn’t agree with “the management”.

“Workers” and “management”…we thought we had overcome that particular divide in business and society, didn’t we? But, some people have a vested interest in keeping it very much alive. In the large, industrialized, unionized industries such as transport, it lives on.

Only last year, UNITE union leader Len McCluskey addressed his supporters in Liverpool as “sisters and brothers” like some mid-20th century socialist (which, of course, he is). This, despite UNITE’s website claiming “Unite is the union for the 21st century meeting the great challenges facing working people in the 21st century”. Oh, we laughed…or would, if it was at all funny. Which, if you were in the queues forming as early as 06.30 this morning, would be far from humorous.

Of course, as we all know, one of the “great challenges facing working people in the 21st century” is their journey to and from “work” – their commute. Unless they happen to be working for an organization which has embraced agile working. Those employees, freelancers, consultants and service providers, are smiling ever-so-slightly smugly today in and around London.

I was only explaining to my eldest daughter, 16, at the weekend, how very many ways we have to communicate (and even meet ‘virtually’) today. Many at no cost, or very little cost – certainly in comparison to the rising cost (and pollution) of travel. When I was her age, we had to either travel to meet, or use the telephone. Even mobile phones were large, heavy and very expensive. Only 1980’s “yuppies” had “mobile” phones – remember these 8 technologies in the 80s 🙂

I don’t know what you use, but I have a smartphone, email, LinkedIn messaging, Twitter DM, skype (for video calls), BlueJeans and GoToMeeting for sharing presentation slides and other materials. I don’t really need to go anywhere. I do, because I like meeting people…but mostly, I don’t have to do that.

So, “sisters and brothers” (whether “worker” or “management” – all together now), lets all spread the word that agile working is the answer to this daily commuting hell. And it is sensible corporate mitigation of the risk of various (and regular) disruptions, whether transport-related, security threats, inclement weather, or whatever.

Every “worker” should, if their job allows, have the opportunity to ‘go agile’ as and when their normal daily routine is disrupted. But, organizations need to plan for this, and give their people the tools to ‘go agile’.

You can’t suddenly ‘go agile’ at 06.30 whilst standing in the queue for the Underground….


I come from the far west of England; the rugby-loving county of Cornwall. Because I was large, I had to play, but was never much good. My second-row buddy went on to play for Scotland and the British Lions, but I took up music lessons 🙂 Anyway, we had a saying when Cornwall reached the County finals, “last one over the Tamar Bridge, turn out the lights”, as busloads of Cornish traveled to support the county side!

If you are wondering what relevance this has to anything you may usually expect to read here, it just reminded me of the current direction of travel for office occupiers. i.e., out of the office – like we sped out of the county.

There was, in fact, far more drawing us back to our beloved county of Cornwall than there is for most daily occupants of offices. Aside from the Googles and Facebooks of our occupier friends, and some of the large employers that spend serious money on great workplaces, for many others the office is a dull place. You only have to see the hoards of people walking from their soulless business park to the local supermarket to buy today’s “Meal Deal” to understand how dull life can be for those unfortunate people.

No wonder, therefore, that cool cafes and co-working hubs are busier than ever. The legions of freelancers and entrepreneurs are being joined by corporate employees who just prefer somewhere better to work. I was talking to Neardesk last week, and they are experiencing ever-rising demand from people wanting to work closer to home. Not at home: that doesn’t work for everyone (many of us just want the separation of work and home life; or have too much home life going on to concentrate). But near to home, with a short commute, good coffee, and interesting people who don’t really care if you sit on the sofa and read the newspaper for a while. Nobody is watching – they’re amongst friends (or total strangers – either way, no bosses hovering).

If you don’t have to be at the office, why would you go? It may be in a great location, and you may want to go for lunch with the girl (or guy) from accounts. But, otherwise, why not wade through your emails at a desk closer to home, and actually get home before the kids are so tired that they just want to go to sleep. Or fit in that round of golf, now that the summer evenings are here? (not for me that one – golf is a good walk spoiled – certainly for my dog!). Or take some time cooking, instead of buying a pizza at 9pm. Or…or…whatever. Take some time back.

There will always be offices. But, we just don’t need to go there every day. And agile working means desk-sharing ratios can rise, so the expanding company does not necessarily need to take on more office space. Some call it space-less growth.

So, every 4th floor you occupy could be released, if more people stayed near home one or two days a week, and let someone else use their desk on those days. Or, every 4th office building – if you occupy a portfolio within a commuting catchment area.

If you manage the 4th office, switch off the lease on your way out….




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It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere

by Paul Carder on May 20, 2015

I hope that Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett really have lived this way!

It’s five o’clock BST here in the UK, and off they all go….

Into crowded trains, and traffic jams….

Wikipedia says “The title refers to a popular expression used to justify drinking at any time of day, given that somewhere in the world it’s 5:00 p.m. (the end of the work day for a traditional “nine-to-five” worker).”

And many people sigh, and think…. yes, that’s me! …and some of us remember when we did 9-5 too (or 8-6, or longer!).

But, let’s be inspired by the line, “”It’s only half-past twelve but I don’t care. It’s five o’clock somewhere” as ain’t that the truth! In this globalized always-switched-on world… who really cares what time it is?

Can’t we thin-slice our time?

7-8am: breakfast with whomever you love 🙂

8-9am: school run, walk? emails;

9-10am: leisurely travel to work with no commuters 🙂

1-3pm: long lunch, shared with friends – bit of business? some ideas? fun!

3-7pm: meetings, work, coffee (perhaps 🙂 with a potential customer;

7-8pm: leisurely travel from work with no commuters 🙂

8-10pm: dinner with whomever you love 🙂

10pm…. well, that’s for you to decide 🙂 You’ve done a good day’s work. You’ve avoided a lot of stress. You may just be in the mood to enjoy yourself, howsoever you choose…

It’s five o’clock somewhere….but really, who gives a…..

C-Suite do please take note – HR Directors especially – just delete “Hours of work” from your contracts of employment, and replace with “we do not expect you to waste time sitting in overcrowded trains or traffic jams….but we reserve the right to fire you if you cannot do your job in an average 37 hours a week, over the course of each year of employment”…. #EmployeeEngagement ? too right friends – that will make ’em think.

P x



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PLACEMAKER: a cure for commuting

by Paul Carder on December 12, 2014

By @paulcarder

Type the words “cure for commuting” into Google, you will find 6,580 results. Type the words “cure for stress” into Google, you will find 212,000 results. And so on…. “cure for cancer”, finds 656,000 results

[and “cure for” (anything), finds 34.4 million results]. So we are looking for many cures for many issues. It is a very human facet, to seek to find cures to make the lives of other people more bearable.

Almost 100 times more focus (simplistically using Google as a lense on the world) goes on cancer than it does on commuting. More than 1 in 3 people in the UK will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. Again in the UK, Cancer is the biggest fear but 34 per cent put it down to fate. Cancer is scary – it can kill you. Though thanks to great research, a lower proportion of people are dying as more cures are discovered, and as new drugs come on line.

Commuting is a cancer on modern life

Commuting is not really comparable to cancer, is it? Really? Come on – its not going to kill you, is it? …is it?

Not in the same way, of course not (though stress is a killer) – but commuting is a ‘cancer’ on modern life. In fact, it has been for generations now, and it is getting worse. You do not even need to be in a gridlocked metropolis to experience commuting pain. It seems that every city and town has its commuting problems these days.

Yet not many people, or organisations, seem to be looking for a “cure for commuting”, relative to all the other ills of the world. We all seem to be putting a sticking plaster over a nasty-looking growth, and hoping that will make it better. It is not working. It never will. It needs to go under the knife.

In fact, if you take away from the search term “cure for commuting” the words “stress”, or “chaos”, or “blues”, or “problems”, there are very few references remaining. Urban transport planners are looking to make commuting easier, less stressful and perhaps less chaotic in some places. But they are generally not looking for a cure itself. Most people seem to assume that commuting has to happen, and therefore all one can do is to make it less painful. It has become almost like a form of palliative care….i.e., sorry, we can’t cure your disease, but we’ll try to make your life bearable. We’ll take away the pain, but we know you’ll still have to suffer.

Work and life do not need to be separated in this way. Commuting is not inevitable, nor can it continue in its current form. It is bad in many western cities – it is far worse in many recently developed or developing countries. We may complain in London or Melbourne about traffic, but we have public transport.

Johannesburg is a commuting nightmare. The Gautrain airport service won an award this year for its airport service (Sandton to OR Tambo International). But that does not help the many thousands of daily commuters with no option but to sit in traffic for hours every day.

Some of the most ‘developed’ cities are hardly better than developing countries. This article from LSE Cities describes similarities between Los Angeles and São Paulo where “a much smaller area is accessible by public transport compared to the car”.

The cure for commuting is not binary, either-or, but rather either-and

All working people must commute sometimes. We all need to travel, from where we live, to where we need to be with other people. We just do not need to do so every day, without questioning the rationale.

Real estate professionals need to consider how many different options can be created to help people to work where they find it most effective. Some of these options are as follows:

  • working at home
  • working nearer to home (as Tom Ball, CEO of is pioneering) in work ‘hubs’
  • working at partner/client offices, nearer to where you live
  • companies providing their own small workhubs, which are more regionally distributed
  • and…of course, sometimes you really must be in the corporate office, at certain times

The problem occurs, of course, where the latter is the daily default option – and where the other options are not available, nor considered.

The cure for commuting needs visionary leadership, by corporate executives

Transport planners fight for resources to make commuting more bearable for the millions of people who must commute daily. But the cure for commuting, for many thousands of people who could make use of one of the other options listed above, must be led by visionary executives.

If a CEO makes a decision to implement various work and place options, as above – making clear that ‘the office’ is not the only (or default) option – hundreds of people can begin to get some precious time back. Their lives will improve.

In fact, so will their engagement levels; so it is a win-win for corporation and employee. Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace”  discovered that 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. And when looking at what leaders can do to improve employee engagement and performance in their companies, trust was a key factor. And trusting employees to work remotely from their company office was cited as one way of improving employee engagement.

Build it, test it…do it again

As real estate professionals, working with occupiers of space, especially for growing numbers of knowledge-workers, we need to test out these workplace options. We need to build work-hubs closer to where people live – perhaps in their local main shopping street. We need to seek out those who are already doing this, and form partnerships and alliances.

Imagine a world where most employees could, for part of their working week, walk or cycle to their local ‘hub’. Not just the haphazard arrangement some people are forced to use today – taking their laptop to a coffee shop. But, a fully-functioning workplace, with people from many organisations, co-working together in their own town (or part of a city).

The challenge – as ever – is changing the mindset of executives and managers!

This is the one we all must work on! But the more facilities that are provided, to work effectively without the need for commuting, the more people will use them. And slowly, senior executives will see that they are not the domain of the work-shy, but rather they are used by highly engaged and committed employees who have just ‘seen a different way’.

If you own or manage a workhub, perhaps the way forward would be to try everything you can to entice CEOs to use your ‘hub’. Then they may just bring their people with them! We hope….