I’ve been brewing an essay for a while now on that outmoded custom known as commuting and the related commercial pastime known as meetings.
Before I go any further, some definitions are perhaps in order.
com’mu-ting: the activity of travelling from one’s place of residence to a different place in order to do one’s job, and then doing it in reverse in the evening, often when millions of other people are tring to do the same thing.
mee-ting: a gathering of work colleagues called to discuss matters of common interest, the gathering tending towards a metastable, self-organized-critical state such that, if temporary, it will become permanent, and may metastasize into subcommittees, until the gatherings take up almost all the time allotted for work, such that a great deal of work is planned but little is, in fact, achieved.
Yes, I had planned to discuss these twin curses of modern office life. I had intended to discuss
* why, if most jobs involve people sitting in front of a computer, that it is felt necessary to move physically from one computer to another, perhaps many miles away, to do more or less the same task;
* the fact that whereas commuting and physical meatspace meetings were once absolutely necessary, because there were no other options, broadband internet and video-conferencing is making them unnecessary for many purposes;
* how workers who are trusted to work flexibly might be in fact more productive, happier and more loyal than those that feel they have to commute to an office where they can be micromanaged;
* how it is that – whether through habit, inertia, or failure to ‘think outside the box’ – companies and their representative bodies (such as the Confederation of British Industry) have as yet failed to grasp the many benefits of remote and more flexible working, including improved worker loyalty and productivity, as well as reduced overheads on office space in expensive metropolitan locations;
* how it is that – whether through habit, inertia, or failure to ‘think outside the box’ – central governments haven’t quite grasped that the flexible and remote working of a significant part of the workforce, for much of the time, might lead to significantly reduced strain on an already overburdened public transport network, as well as a marked reduction in road traffic and its associated environmental costs;
* how it is that – whether through habit, inertia, or failure to ‘think outside the box’ – local governments haven’t quite grasped how the flexible and remote working of a significant part of the workforce, for much of the time, might lead to a redistribution of wealth from major cities, notably London, to the regions, refuelling often desperate local economies, creating jobs, energizing communities and producing far greater prosperity for all.
Yes, I had meant to talk about all these things, as well as the fact that my company allows me to work from home, at least some of the time, for which I am grateful.
But I won’t. Why not? Because pictures are so much more evocative. Here is a picture of my workspace early this morning, when, kids at school, I set up shop on the patio with my laptop;