We have all known people who have decided to move out of big cities for good during pandemic to smaller, quainter towns with a slower pace of life – Dehradun, Goa, Coonoor among others, thanks to the universal acceptance of ‘Work from home’. As normalcy returns, several organisations are bringing their staff back to offices as WFH has its own challenges. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that some work will move remote on a permanent basis. In this piece in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson helps us understand the reasons for as well as consequences of this.
First, he brings in network theory to explain why despite video conferencing technology being available much before the pandemic, it took off only when people were compelled to use it during the lockdown and thus driving universal acceptance.
“The best argument against the remote-work experiment having a durable impact on our lives beyond the pandemic is an appeal to human inertia: For decades, the internet was a thing and remote work wasn’t, and after the pandemic, it’ll just feel like 2019 again.
But the impediment to widespread remote work in 2019 and before wasn’t technological. It was social. According to the economist David Autor, remote work suffered from a “telephone problem.” Seven decades after the first telephone was patented in the 1860s, fewer than half of Americans owned one. Behavior dragged behind technology, because most families had no use for a telecom machine as long as none of their friends also owned one. In network theory, this is known as Metcalfe’s Law: The value of a communications network rises exponentially with the number of its users.
The same has been true of remote work. In 2018, it was weird and rude to ask a boss to move a meeting to Skype, or to tell a business partner to fire up a Zoom link because you can’t make lunch. The teleconference tech existed, but it was considered an ersatz substitute for the normal course of business.”
He then goes on to identify four likely developments as a consequence of rising remote work and people moving their residences farther away from business centers viz, the rise of the supercommuter, the decline of superstar cities, the rise of the rest and the next Silicon valley could be anywhere.
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