Mobile Work / Agility

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 🙂



The changing nature of jobs (ILO report)

by Paul Carder on July 24, 2015


Thanks to our friend Wim Pullen at TU Delft for bringing this report to our attention. It is essential reading for any professional with an interest in work, employment, and how it is changing around the world.

You, like us, probably specialize in thinking about work vis-a-vis place; or workplaces, and the many combinations or work and place. But, how much do we consider the fundamental changes happening in the world of ‘work’ itself?

In the key findings, the report says “Only one quarter of workers worldwide is estimated to have a stable employment relationship, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO)”. That is a shocking statistic. Some will argue, a lack of a “stable” employment relationship is better than no work at all. We are not here to argue the point. But, just to consider the small world in which we (and probably you) as “workplace strategists” actually live and work.

In context, my recent blog “It’s five o’clock somewhere” seems like a small, privileged world. As does most of the other musing around work-life balance, flexible working, and finding hours of work that “suit” people. It is worth remembering, that we are all in a fortunate minority.

Just saying…..

Take care, Paul @paulcarder


(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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Development of a teaching ‘case study’: Wallace&Sprocket LLP

(Note: it would be great to receive your feedback – and perhaps, somewhere out there, real-life examples which are similar to this fictional example)

Wallace&Sprocket LLP is a fictional organization in the accountancy and business advisory sector, mainly serving the creative arts, media and film production industries.

Wallace&Sprocket LLP occupied a four-floor office in a CBD, all floors being approximately the same size, and serviced via a reception and lift lobby at one end of the building.

Wallace&Sprocket’s corporate vision for their workplace was to create a high-quality flexible environment which would be attractive to potential employees, and may also retain existing employees. As a professional services firm they had achieved an approximately 50/50 gender balance at most levels of the firm. But, they were finding that more senior women were leaving than men, and the Executive Committee (ExCo) had become almost 80% male.

The Director of Workplace Resources (responsible for property, workplace design and facilities management) had read about how remote working was shown to have increased employee retention. She had reported this to the ExCo and received the go-ahead for a pilot scheme to allow qualified mid-to-senior level staff to work wherever they feel most appropriate on any given day. Junior staff, and those working on professional qualifications, were to be allowed to work remotely when approved by their line manager.

The company’s specific aims were as follows:

  • To improve retention, and attraction of new staff (assessed by HR interview);
  • To improve levels of employee engagement (assessed using a survey tool);
  • To introduce agile working, where space was to be allocated to teams, but not to individuals (except for team co-ordinators, who would have a desk and be focal point for their team);
  • To reduce space used as a result of agile working, but to re-invest savings in the above;

Wallace&Sprocket’s ExCo agreed to follow this 10-step process, as set out below, and to adjust the solution to suit their specific circumstances.

1. Measure:

The first step was to deploy occupancy sensors (see example Sense from Condeco Software) at every existing workstation, and around spaces where people worked such as in meeting rooms. This was done over one weekend, to avoid any disruption to the business. The software was adjusted to measure occupancy at every ‘seat’ at 10 minute intervals (the software does this 24/7, for as long as the sensors are deployed).

A four week period was selected, avoiding national holidays or any events which may affect the analysis.

2. Analyse:

Towards the end of the four week period, analysts began to work with the sensor data, to understand patterns of office space use across the four floors. This analysis showed that average occupancy was 48% across the four week period. This varied by business unit and function across Wallace&Sprocket’s operations.

3. Develop:

Using the analysis, the company’s management were able to develop a workplace strategy and change management process.

The calculations were fairly simple, as an average across all business units (though adjustments were made for some, such as Tax and IT, whose occupancy had been around the 60-70% level).

With 400 people across four floors, on average only 192 desks were being used.

The company therefore decided to re-stack the office space, to move out of the ground floor. The assumption was made that if occupancy levels stayed broadly similar, and 192 desks were being used (average) then the company could cope with 300 desks on three floors (an occupancy rate of around 64%). This could be monitored over time, using the Sense software, to see how well the space coped with any fluctuations in use.

4. Implement:

Over a three month period, the workplace strategy set out above was implemented. The workplace change involved significant training of space users for ‘agile’ working.

This was managed by a third party (workplace consultant) who spent time with each of the business unit Heads, selected a ‘champion’ from each business unit, and held workshops with staff.

All staff were given access to a specially developed website, with a training course module which took them through the stages of moving to an agile working environment. In this way, business unit heads could see how many (and which) employees had completed the course.

5. Realize:

Wallace&Sprocket LLP was able to realize savings, on paper at least. The company was able to reduce space use, by one whole floor (25%), totaling 1200 square metres net internal area (NIA).

At an annual run-rate of approximately £750 per square metre NIA, the saving identified was circa £900,000.

However, at the time that the space was made vacant there appeared to be very limited demand for office space in the local market. So, alternative solutions were required.

6. Dispose:

As far as possible, clearly Wallace&Sprocket aimed to recover the £900k per annum running cost of its ground floor. As the company had taken advice from several real estate agents, and found that demand was almost ‘dead’ for a traditional sub-let, they looked into other options.

The decision was made to keep the ground floor lease until the next lease-break (not for another 5 years), and in the meantime to aim to generate to offset costs.

Wallace&Sprocket approached a leading broker with a brief to look for a serviced office operator prepared to take on the ground floor. Within a month, and still during the re-stack operation, the broker had found a local serviced office operator with two other sites in the area which were almost at capacity.

It was agreed that the serviced office operator would pay £600k per annum, and an additional £200k service charge for shared services provided to the space by Wallace&Sprocket facilities management department.

Wallace&Sprocket was able to therefore recover £800k per annum, to re-invest in its business.

7. Reinvest:

Wallace&Sprocket decided to re-invest 75% of the savings (£600k) into alternative ‘remote’ spaces for its staff to use, closer to where they lived. And also, work with a provider to issue ‘access cards’ to mid-to-senior level staff which they could use to access meeting rooms and workspace on the move.

The serviced office broker was also able to support this programme, through a subsidiary, and manage the card access system for Wallace&Sprocket LLP on behalf of its employees.

8. Train:

Wallace&Sprocket’s Director of Workplace Resources designed and implemented an ongoing training programme, for the following:

  • To train people to use the agile space in the office;
  • To train people to use the alternative remote space (nearer home, or on the move).

This training process is still ongoing (and will be for some time) as people receive regular refresher courses, progress interviews, and training is implemented for new starters.

9. Maintain:

Continuous improvement was always one of the key aims of the Director of Workplace Resources at the start. This involves continuous use of the occupancy sensors and analysis tool, to monitor occupancy (see below), but also ongoing change management.

However, this change management and training is seen as ‘business as usual’ now – the space is continuously ‘tweaked’ to get best value and use from the three remaining floors.

10. Loop back:

Finally, Wallace&Sprocket’s workplace resources team has learned to continuously analyse the occupancy data using the online tools made available by software provider. The company is able to learn, and feedback into further development.

Progress against original project aims

This is ongong, but early signs are that the project has been a success. In the first year after implementation there was significant take-up of the card system for use of alternative remote space. Ad-hoc feedback to senior line managers has been that employees appreciate the trust placed in them to work effectively wherever they deem suitable. Early indications are also that the staff turnover rate has reduced, but this will be monitored over time. The PR impact in the press has also been useful to the HR recruitment team. They have seen a slight increase in applications, and positive comments on interview for jobs at the company, with one reason being the flexible working arrangements.

From a real estate perspective, Wallace&Sprocket LLP now occupy 75% of the space they once did. The organization has re-invested in cards for all employees which allow them to book space remote from the office, often nearer their home. Overall net savings after this investment in remote working have covered the costs of implementation and software licences over a 2 year payback period.


This is a fictional example, based on what we know is starting to happen….have you done it? Do you know of a case study which we might get access to? It would be great to convert this fictional case study into one or more ‘real’ examples.


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….


Imagine that a child was given school homework, to make a PowerPoint slide of Mum’s journey to and from work. It may look like this: – hopefully not too much better, as I’ve just done that with basic clipart!

Now, imagine how much of that picture might make little sense to a school-child in 2040 (or, thereabouts). Or at least, I truly hope that it would not be a ‘normal’ daily journey. It might make a fairly interesting educational boardgame actually? Roll a pair of sixes, to work from home. Dash it, I rolled two ones – have to catch that crowded commuter train again….any entrepreneurs out there, call me!

Transport infrastructure is a political hot-potato, probably in any city or densely populated region. But, one has to ask the question, is infrastructure the right way to spend our way to a better future? Politicians seem to think so. Look at our ‘boardgame’ though, and it would be immediately obvious to a child that there are many options other than travelling the winding route all the way to the corporate office.

My regional partner in Australia, Martin Leitch, was telling me about his home city of Melbourne on our regular call last week. Aparently it is currently expanding faster than Sydney. This is creating a serious issue with travel into the CBD, and the politicians (like everywhere) seem to believe that throwing money at transport infrastructure is the solution. So, we got discussing whether they should redefine infrastructure as a wider support for working in a different way. That infrastructure should include places, spaces and technology which allows people to do their work without travelling too far from where they live. Just like our boardgame picture – walking to a ‘desk’ in a coffee shop, or using the beleaguered Main Street which has been starved of customers since the advent of out-of-town shopping centres. Or perhaps even travelling to the railway hub, but not boarding any train! Why not – lots of parking and buses, so why not have a ‘work-hub’ at every rail hub?

It is all about city, urban, suburban, and rural planning. Land economics – what is the best economic use of land. The cost to live in the centre of cities, even if one wanted to, is always going to be too high for most families. The cool CBD is for the young professionals, singles, affluent couples without children, and a few ’empty-nesters’. Unless you are very wealthy, the rest of us need to commute to an office from various distances away from the centre. That daily grind seems to get more expensive, and stressful (due to many factors – overcrowding, delays, etc.).

It is also not sustainable, in the human or environmental sense. Carbon has had a price now for many years, due to schemes such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. And that carbon ‘price’ will only rise over time. Add that to the actual ‘real’ fuel cost of travel, commuting will become a balance between necessity and affordability. It will be reduced, and ‘rationed’ in effect, to the one or two days a week that a person actually needs to be ‘co-located’ with the rest of their team in order to stay sufficiently ‘in touch’. But, commuting five days a week over long distances will surely be deemed wasteful, and environmentally damaging – not to mention costly and inefficient.

Then, there are the social pressures on families, especially – childcare, and elderly or carer responsibilities. It would be far easier, for many working people who also have carer responsibilities, to be able to get home in a shorter amount of time. There is no time to expand on that here, but there is extensive literature available on flexible working, and many governments are supporting with legislation.

In our little real estate world, who should be interested in all this? Real estate economists and developers, for sure – what they develop, and specifically where, needs to change. There will not be the demand for tertiary office space, especially older and inflexible property stock. Occupiers will need less space in the corporate ‘head office’, but what they do need will be good quality, highly flexible, in attractive locations where people can easily access transport links.

They will invest in fewer, smaller, high-spec ‘hubs’ in key cities – and they can spend a little of what they have saved on attracting and retaining staff, by giving them some form of flexible workspace ‘clubcard’ to access a facility closer to home.

Aha, the lamp lights – what will these ‘local centres’ look like? Well they may look like the existing small town Main Streets, retail centres, and rail hubs as mentioned above. Most of the buildings that we will be using in 2040, of course, already exist – we only add a little to the ‘stock’ every year. But those existing buildings can be redesigned, and refurbished of course (developers eyes light up too, now). Property development opportunities. Also the creation of a new service economy, aimed at making peoples’ working day more effective – and attracting them to their ‘local centre’. It will have to be high quality though – if you have worked in central city locations for years, and now you are contemplating working 2-3 days a week in your local hub, it can’t feel like second-class experience. But, if we get the quality of facility and experience right, people will come – they will not mourn the loss of their daily commute into the corporate office. After all, they will still commute once or twice a week, to stay in touch, socialize, meet clients, or for many other reasons. And if commuting is not a daily grind, it may become a welcome trip to see friends. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

So, perhaps the question should have been, not ‘what’ was, but ‘why’ did we commute Grandma? That one, I’ll leave to you to ponder!


by Paul Carder (; Twitter: @paulcarder

When Terry Hall of Fun Boy Three brought Bananarama in as backing vocals in 1982, to release “It ain’t what you do, its the way that you do it”, he couldn’t have foreseen it being quoted in a blog about work, work-styles and workplaces! But here it is, and its true – its the way that you do it, that’s what gets results. Organizations of all kinds are about getting results, for their investors, customers, charitable donators, voters, or any other group of stakeholders. So, one has to question why managers so often feel the need not only to allocate work (‘what’ you do), but also to manage the location and process (the ‘way’ that you do it). Managing the ‘way’ that work is done, especially for highly skilled knowledge-workers, restricts their ability to tailor their work output to their own personal circumstances and preferences. Everyone is different. Why expect them to all work in the same place, in the same way? Its like giving them a car, but fixing the seat height, the steering column, the mirrors, giving them a one-speed gearbox and a speed restrictor…..the car would soon be returned to the leasing company! Why do we do it with workplaces?

The PLACEMAKER, in those circumstances, also has two hands firmly tied. Their skill-set includes finding the best work locations, flexible providers, great service experience, and supporting the individual in whatever way they chose to work. But, the PLACEMAKER may only be allowed to use the one element of that toolkit – the large, standardized, pre-set, corporate office, in the centre of the city. Or worse, not even in an interesting city! The corporate office could be in a nondescript business park, where the only respite from monotony is the entrepreneurial woman from the nearby town who brings a van-load of assorted sandwiches at mid-morning. Or a smoke in the purpose-built smoking shelter, with your other buddies, also ostracized like citizens of the Athenian democracy (albeit not for ten years, just for ten minutes). Yes, I have been one of their number….

In one of our OJ network discussions this week, Marcus Bowen (our man in Hong Kong) raised a very interesting point. It is an unrestricted gulp of fresh air to be PLACEMAKER to the ScrumMasters in the software development industries. They do not suffer from these restrictions. The much sought-after (and expensive) ScrumMaster will fly into a hub like Hong Kong, or Singapore, all pre-arranged and planned by a multi-skilled PLACEMAKER. The ScrumMaster and her team will have done a lot of preparation work remotely, in one of many different personally-suited work settings. But then, at some point, they need ‘face time’. They need that frenetic activity – a short, intensive work period – to get over that creative hurdle. Maybe three or four days – they will be too tired to do more.

Before they get to the Scrum, the group of software developers will have been using remote team-working tools; sharing a work-space in real time, but not real proximity. They may ‘sit’ next to each other, online – but in reality could be a mile or a thousand miles apart. It makes no difference. The PLACEMAKER will be there, wherever, to provide (maybe through a third party) the place, and the space, and the service experience which supports productive work.

I hear some readers saying, ‘here we go again – this is all about knowledge workers!’ The laptop and tablet-carrying free agents of the contemporary workplace. Highly paid and highly skilled people, whose needs have to be pandered to. But, it is no longer true, is it? We would have said, medical doctors need to be in hospitals. But paramedics with helmet-mounted cameras now routinely get advice from a doctor who could be anywhere.  We would have said, teachers need to be in schools and colleges – they may be, but their students can be anywhere with a webcam. Or vice-versa. The man (it is usually a man) digging up the road will be there, until someone invents a machine that can do his job all day without leaning on his shovel for ten minutes every hour. The person fitting caps on toothpaste tubes will equally be physically located on a bench, day in day out, until similarly someone invents a machine with equivalent dexterity. But, these jobs, in fixed locations, are reducing in numbers every time there is a new innovation – and they are not being replaced.

Much has been talked about the future of the office (no….open your eyes….stay awake now) – its quite simple, it will be a bit of what we have today, and part working at home, plus many other locations and spaces which suit the individual at a specific time. Workplace becomes workplaces. Corporate real estate teams will be providing an agile service to the workforce, not a fixed ‘product’, in a fixed place. Facilities management will become more about managing the work experience, of place, space and customer services – but as those places are spread around, to suit the individual more than the corporation, this new higher-level facilities management will be provided by the PLACEMAKER. The developer, the entrepreneur with an interesting ‘place’ where people just really want to work. The bus stops here – all change please, all change….