By Phil Gibbs on March 7, 2011
Recently I was sitting at a table at a marriage seminar and overheard a conversation about commuting to work and mass transit—definitely on topic. The obvious response, or perhaps I should say reaction, to any discussion about commuting goes something like, “Don’t get me started—I hate creeping along at two miles per hour every single morning and afternoon. We have to build more roads!”
When I bother to engage my brain, however, I am not sure the obvious response is the correct response. At least I am not sure it is the response that addresses the fundamental issue.
Often we are so immersed in a system that we do not see what is really going on. Morning and afternoon traffic jams are just assumed. When I had an office on the 29th floor of a downtown tower, I used to watch traffic build and slow to a crawl every afternoon–ok, so I wasn’t there early enough to see it in the morning. We have HOV lanes on interstates that limit use during mornings and afternoons. A popular movie a few years ago was titled “Nine to Five”. Our company recently ran an ad on radio–public radio for that matter–during “drive time”. Morning and afternoon traffic jams are so ingrained in our psyche that they are simply a given—kind of like Jell-O is a salad, macaroni and cheese a vegetable, and in the south, Pepsi is a Coke–now I am definitely off topic.
So when the brain is engaged, the question that must be asked before increasing the number of lanes or building rail or adding people movers, is why are all the vehicles on the road at the same time? The answer is of course simple–that is when people go to work and get off work. Now I understand. But why does everyone go to and get off work at the same time?
Actually, years ago in a manufacturing based economy and a face-to-face communication and transaction environment, it did make sense. People needed to come together in the same place at the same time to accomplish work. Roads and transit systems were built to accommodate those needs.
But now we are primarily a service and mediated communication economy. Research by IDC shows that by 2013, 75.5% of the workforce will be mobile. That means we can work from anywhere, any time. That means we are not tied to an 8:00 to 5:00 schedule. It also means we can work from home, coffee shops and 24/7 work and meeting spaces like E|SPACES.
So, if we fast forward ten or twenty years, I wonder if we will look back and talk about morning and evening traffic jams and “drive time,” like we talk about eight tracks, brick cell phones, punch cards and paper files.
We should not underestimate the impact of the mobile workforce on virtually every aspect of our lives–from where we live, to the types of organizations we work in, to commercial real estate, and especially to drive time and traffic jams. As we contemplate solutions and huge investments, we must address the fundamental issues and the future, not a dated past.
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