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Telecommuting and the de-urbanization of large workplaces


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#1 sebberry

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 04:24 PM

There's been lots of chatter in various other threads about what impact the modernization and decentralization of workforces will have on our community.

Various ideas have been discussed such as telecommuting and the dividing of large offices and organizations up into smaller units where employees would be able to work out of smaller offices in the communities which they reside.

I thought this topic would spawn some interesting discussions on how this would affect commuter travel in the CRD as well as other impacts this may have on the workforces themselves and other individuals/businesses that rely on the downtown presence of government organizations.

Have at it boys! (And girls ;))

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#2 G-Man

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 06:03 PM

I think that this may work in some organizations but certainly won't work for many government offices. What many don't understand is that most work I have seen and done in government requires teams being in the same office. Say what you want about videoconferencing it doesn't work for brainstorming and it does not work for team engagement and empowerment.

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#3 Mike K.

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 06:14 PM

I think that this may work in some organizations but certainly won't work for many government offices. What many don't understand is that most work I have seen and done in government requires teams being in the same office. Say what you want about videoconferencing it doesn't work for brainstorming and it does not work for team engagement and empowerment.


If every one of your team members could be brought up on a 30-inch screen at the touch of a button and you could talk to them, would that not be the same? That technology exits today. It did not 5 years ago. Reminds me of internet banking. Nobody did it 10 years ago. Now I never go into my bank.

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#4 Mike K.

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 06:30 PM

^Btw, that was VicHockeyFan accidentally posting under my account.

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#5 sebberry

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 06:48 PM

Can I have your password too? :P

I just don't think even with the technology available that teleconferencing will work as effectively as meeting in person.

I think there's a reason that while the technology exists it isn't implemented this way. I'm no psychologist, but I think there's something about being in the same room as other people that just makes teamwork work better.

Heck, companies will still fly employees to other countries, pay for hotels, meals, etc.. for the employee to teach other employees. Surely that can be done over the internet. Technologically it is possible, so why isn't it done more? There must be a reason that person-person contact is better.

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#6 G-Man

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:07 PM

^ Bingo! I have used teleconference many times. I am not talking about skype, I mean in a proper teleconference room and it works for into sharing meetings. It will never be able to replace a proper in-person meeting for negotiations or project development. If telecommuting were a feasible alternative why does Apple and Google have offices? They should just have a big secure network hub with a fence around it and a security guard.

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#7 VicHockeyFan

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:32 PM

^ Bingo! I have used teleconference many times. I am not talking about skype, I mean in a proper teleconference room and it works for into sharing meetings. It will never be able to replace a proper in-person meeting for negotiations or project development. If telecommuting were a feasible alternative why does Apple and Google have offices? They should just have a big secure network hub with a fence around it and a security guard.


I am talking about not spending $950 million on a train. And with that kind of spending, we should not be considering what we have now, we should be thinking about what the next 10 or 20 years holds for us.
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#8 G-Man

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 08:14 PM

Wrong thread :)

I hardly think that Victoria has the right industries to think about being a world leader in telecommuting.

Show me a similar sized city in North America that introduced a change like that effectively.

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#9 http

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 12:14 AM

I answered a related question earlier today.

It comes down to this: for communication between people, meatspace's bandwidth kicks the ass of cyberspace to the curb and then wafflestomps it for a while.

If you're merely giving orders, the network is fine. If you're trying to integrate conflicting views, the network can't even pretend to convey subtlety. Same for building consensus or picking up on possible dissatisfaction.

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#10 rjag

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 06:22 AM

I've been a private supplier of services for the Provincial Government for 25+ years. In that time I've tripped over telecomuting, hotelling etc as the answer to everything....they've always been abysnal failures. I dont think because of lack of network capability but just the simple human need of contact and community when working.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is why government doesnt decentralise instead of concentrating downtown.

There is absolutely no reason why BC Ferries and LTSA had to move into one of the most expensive buildings in Victoria. Neither offices have a lot of walk in traffic, there is no reason why they couldnt set up shop in Langford or Royal Oak etc.

Same goes for Min of AG, Health, Children and Families etc. They all have large workforces that commute. There is no public contact and no reason why the Minister cant have a branch office close to the Leg and another office in the 'burbs.

Jutland is another example, why oh why do our Government workers get the best locations in these uber buildings on the taxpayers dime? 'Normal' businesses have to settle for normal locations with normal furniture....but not the government....they need to spend twice as much of our money for no reason apart from the fact its not their money.

So, no I dont think telecommuting is a good idea but decentralisation of offices from downtown is perhaps worth investigating.

#11 jklymak

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 07:43 AM

... just the simple human need of contact and community when working.


I think it is as simple as that. Most people don't want to sit at home by themselves working 8 hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year.

I also expect that those in jobs that are flexible enough that telecommuting would work already can avoid the crawl by coming in early or late. Those stuck in traffic have more constrained schedules.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is why government doesnt decentralise instead of concentrating downtown.


So you don't think there is any benefit to having government employees within close proximity to one another? I would think centralizing would make things more efficient for cross-ministry communication, and various support roles (i.e. IT).

As for the quality of the buildings, I'm sure BCF and LTSA won't be moving for 30 or 40 years, so sure their brand new building looks extravagant today, but it will look more run down by then. There are plenty of ministries in older buildings. I'd rather the government invest in good buildings today and not have to move every 10 years.

#12 arfenarf

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 08:27 AM

If every one of your team members could be brought up on a 30-inch screen at the touch of a button and you could talk to them, would that not be the same? That technology exits today. It did not 5 years ago. Reminds me of internet banking. Nobody did it 10 years ago. Now I never go into my bank.


This technology is being piloted within the BC Government now. Gov't is carefully assessing ROI before proceeding. I've used one of the suites and it is very, very cool. Is it cost-effective to put everywhere? Maybe. Would I use a facility like that for a really touchy creative problem solving session? Only if it meant I could get an expert who would otherwise be unavailable due to travel restrictions. I'd insist on having locals appear in person.

There is more cross-pollination between ministries than you might expect, especially at the senior level where location decision making will take place.

We may get there eventually. I can work from home with today's toolset a day or so a week but need to be on site the rest of the time to see and touch people and just feel the vibe in the building and ensure that people and projects have what they need to succeed.

#13 Bernard

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 09:59 AM

I look at youth in high school and university now and I have trouble imagining them happy with a classic desk job. They are used to the movable office already and can, and do, work from anywhere.

The traditional working patterns are changing, the traditional office is going to disappear. Work is going to spread out to everywhere. Planners need to start thinking about the implications.

The work places that will need people to show up at them are the ones where they serve the public or where they have to interact with some physical object.

#14 Layne French

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 10:33 AM

I look at youth in high school and university now and I have trouble imagining them happy with a classic desk job. They are used to the movable office already and can, and do, work from anywhere.

The traditional working patterns are changing, the traditional office is going to disappear. Work is going to spread out to everywhere. Planners need to start thinking about the implications.

The work places that will need people to show up at them are the ones where they serve the public or where they have to interact with some physical object.


I disagree since firms agglomerate for a multiple of different reasons, therefore the traditional office will not disappear. telecommuting is more of a pipe dream than a feasible way to conduct business. While it seems to save firms money, there is a opportunity costs to this savings that is seen as simply not worth it. Some would suggest that Geography has in fact become more important than ever.

#15 Mike K.

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 10:51 AM

The one thing we regret by moving out office out to Saanich is every time we have a meeting or need to run a business errand, into our vehicles we go, and drive into downtown we do. This wastes time and is an inconvenience we never had when we worked downtown.

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#16 ZGsta

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 12:01 PM

http://theoatmeal.co...cs/working_home

#17 jklymak

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 12:04 PM

^^ VibrantVictoria moved to the burbs??

#18 gumgum

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 01:28 PM

I bet 9 out of 10 people would rather work downtown then in the burbs. Downtown you have easy access to a large variety of shopping and food.
I know know someone that worked for BCBC for a while and hated it for the simple reason that there was nowhere to go on a break other than the A&W.
And she still had to pay for parking.

#19 Layne French

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 01:29 PM

The one thing we regret by moving out office out to Saanich is every time we have a meeting or need to run a business errand, into our vehicles we go, and drive into downtown we do. This wastes time and is an inconvenience we never had when we worked downtown.


Imagine you were a much larger firm though Mike? The industry I have naturally studied in depth the most from a Urban Systems perspective would have to be the Energy Sector. In this case energy firms often agglomerate around industry regulators, Business services focused around the energy sector, institutions that help develop human capital, information spill over is reduced through telecommuting( which can impact and hurt firms), ability to "poach" employees are all a few reasons why firms locate where they locate and how they cluster.

#20 Mike K.

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 01:40 PM

^^ VibrantVictoria moved to the burbs??


Yup :) We needed a type of office setup that we couldn't find downtown, at least not within the price range that we could possibly pay month in and month out. In short, we were more or less priced out of the downtown market.

That's not to say we won't be back in the future, but for what we need in terms of workplace and storage (we do a few varied things here at Skyscraper Source) we had to look to Saanich.

Imagine you were a much larger firm though Mike? The industry I have naturally studied in depth the most from a Urban Systems perspective would have to be the Energy Sector. In this case energy firms often agglomerate around industry regulators, Business services focused around the energy sector, institutions that help develop human capital, information spill over is reduced through telecommuting( which can impact and hurt firms), ability to "poach" employees are all a few reasons why firms locate where they locate and how they cluster.


Absolutely, and this is the reason why downtown won't be significantly impacted by telecommuting. Government organizations and larger private companies need easy access to a wide berth of resources. Forcing employees to buzz around town in order to meet with their counterparts is costly, wasteful and counterproductive.

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