Location is a key element in almost everything in life. “Being in the right place at the right time”, is a credo that resonates abundantly when someone appears to uncover good fortune in life.
People have been moving from the countryside into cities for decades to find work – any work. Even if the cost of living and the quality of life are diminished, it is vital to have an income. And, even if that means giving up some of the better aspects of life – we do it.
For example, if you open a restaurant, the location is critical for foot traffic or being in the right place to attract the right dining clientele, such as business people enjoying a luncheon to entertain prospective clients. If you are in the suburbs and they are in the city core, they will not have time nor make the effort to drive to you. You need to be conveniently located in the urban location for them to use your restaurant. However, if you are chasing the casual evening dinner crowd, then when the business people return to their homes and families in the suburbs after the hectic workday, you may be ideally located for them.
Likewise, your kids go to the local schools because you are in the defined catchment area for these schools. Often, parent purchase homes in specific neighbourhoods in order to be able to send their children to these good schools.
Some parents use a relative’s home address to register these same children for sports and extracurricular activities in order to pretend to be within other restricted areas so as to give their children a chance to play under the best coaches or in the better league.
Geography plays a major role in what resources we can and cannot access.
Place seems to be very important. Well, at least, it use to be.
With the advent of the COVID pandemic, life has changed dramatically. We now work from home, kids attend classes online, and when we purchase items online, they get shipped from anywhere on the globe.
The pandemic has changed everything, but it has most importantly removed the ‘place’ attribute from where we work, learn, and shop.
We are entering a time of ‘Digital Nomads’. People are no longer anchored to a specific place or time to work, learn, or play. Life is now digital, so we live and work within the internet. We are all digitized and virtual. We are truly digital nomads, wondering and working wherever it suites us best. It is the connection to the internet that defines us and our capabilities.
With the recent technological developments of Starlink and other LEO satellite delivery of internet connections currently in development, the once digital wasteland of rural and remote parts of the country can now become rich with connectivity. You can get the exact same user experience in the remote flatland as someone trapped in an urban jungle. Digital isolation is about to become a thing of the past – the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ – is no longer a thing. Everyone can have a connections wherever they choose to live when they work inside the digital domain. If you are boating, camping, or living remotely in a log cabin surrounded by deep forest, you can still be connected fully and transparently to the rest of the world. However, I must wonder if this is truly a good thing?
So, location is not as important as it once was to us. When using the internet to interconnect to the world, proximity between source and consumption is now erased.
During the past two decades, when the big box stores moved over to smother the smaller, hometown retailers, the little guys were annihilated. But now, even the big box stores are under vicious attack by the worldwide eCommerce retailers, like Amazon. The local retailer was killed by the regional retailers, now the global retailers with ever-expanding selection of products and low prices are casting an even wider net to destroy the regional big box stores.
After work was digitized and virtualized, and the pandemic forced individual isolation, digital workers could set up in their living room, basement, or a spare apartment bedroom. One of the challenges was the lack of fit for these settings aligned to work related tasks. These locations were uncomfortable, poorly lit, and lacked the workplace ergonomics that a formal office place provided. However, no longer was the daily drive to the office a part of the expense of earning a living.
It was quickly realized by companies that productivity could be maintained or even increased if the workers stayed at home and logged in remotely.
In this new paradigm, the horrid hassle and unwieldy costs of bumper to bumper traffic could be outright avoided. For most workers in the bigger cities, this could save one to two hours or more every day. Time that could be well spent with the family, or as the employers expected – working more hours.
The employers did not need to cover the costs to furnish office space for the workers, and the savings where immense. Now, the costs for cooling, heating, lighting, cleaning, square footage, and for a lot of the necessary IT technology infrastructure costs to support each workers were suddenly the burden of the workers themselves. Your teenage child became Mom and Dad’s go-to IT expert.
Some employers facilitated their employees with laptops, webcams, headsets, and tablets, but many would not pay for home printers, internet connections, or even basic supplies like paper for printing or pens for note taking. These cost savings fell directly to the business’ bottom line, which positively enhanced profits, so they are very attractive to shareholders.
New digital unified communication tools evolved and were rapidly deployed to ensure worker productivity. Management immediately set out to have metrics and tools to measure for this remote worker productivity. Companies are starting to use artificial intelligence and analytic platforms to detect work efforts, look for distracted employees, and correct behaviour – or build a case to terminate.
Big brother is truly watching you everyday. With many companies, every keyboard click you make is monitored and recorded. Even the intensity and rhythm of your clicks is observed to know your pace and diligence of your remote work ethic.
Is your boss actually watching you? Not likely, but some AI platform is awake 24/7 watching relentlessly even if you search online for gifts and personal items outside of standard work hours. God forbid you violate company policy in your time during this ‘always on’ world.
This week, a Brenda Richardson real estate story in Forbes reported, “Topeka, Kansas is offering an enticing deal for remote workers to put down roots in the city. Through the state capital’s new Choose Topeka relocation initiative, employees who work remotely for companies based outside Shawnee County can receive up to $10,000 if they purchase a home, and up to $5,000 toward a one-year lease, if they relocate to Topeka or Shawnee County.”
For context, the medium list price of homes in Topeka is $142,300, and the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $769. The Topeka area, located in the Greater Kansas City region and an hour from Kansas City International Airport, is home to 178,915 people.
“Topeka is only one of a few cities in the entire country to offer this type of incentive to relocate remote workers,” said Dan Foltz, board chairman of GO Topeka, an organization of the Greater Topeka Partnership, the leading economic development agency in the region.
He added, “Communities, such as ours, that invest in talent ultimately reap the benefits of a robust and specialized workforce as well as a stronger, more intentional community.”
Last year, Topeka offered incentives worth up to $15,000 to encourage talent to move to Topeka and Shawnee County.
So, it is in the digital employees best interests to live in places that offer incentives for them to move there. The place where they live may no longer be relevant to the work that they do.
Likewise, the older catchment rules for where your children can attend school seem to be rather obsolete in this brave new digital world. If you can afford it, why not have your children attend the best schools and learn from the very best teachers – albeit remotely?
And, if you ponder it all even more, why do they even need to attend just one institution? Why not learn math from one school and social studies from another? Seek out the very best education for your digital prodigy.
Of course, the deeper social aspects of attending school is not available online. At least, it is not as powerful as it needs to be in your child’s development and education. Face to face connections are vital to a child’s learning! The intense richness of social connections is simply not there online like it is in the physical bricks and mortar schools. So, I must wonder if this missing ingredient will ever be overcome in the digital classroom? Will we one day have virtual recess in the ether?
Yesterday, I was reading about a related new phenomenon called, “Zoom Fatigue” which also causes me to worry. The BBC reported that “video chat is helping us stay employed and connected. But what makes it so tiring – and how can we reduce ‘Zoom fatigue’?”
Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” the BBC reports says.
Silence is another challenge, he adds. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” It also makes people uncomfortable. One 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.
An added factor, the BBC report offers, is that if we are physically on camera, we are very aware of being watched. “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.” It’s also very hard for people not to look at their own face if they can see it on screen, or not to be conscious of how they behave in front of the camera.
So, while where you work may no longer be important, how you work, when you work, how expensive it is for you to work, and the mental distractions and negative effects of prolonged online work, can be detrimental to your personal well-being.
There is so much to consider and more to do to make working remotely equal to working in the office. If that goal can ever be achieved is still uncertain. While companies are embracing it all and some businesses plan to make it a permanent way to work going forward, there is still a price to be paid.
Let us all hope that it is not the workers and their children that have to pay this price from this unwanted technological virtual isolation. While the notion of being a Digital Nomad may sound attractive, I fear that it can also be harmful too.
So ‘place and time’ are still very important, especially for children.
Jiang, M. (2020). The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. BBC. remote Control. Retrieved on September 24, 2020 from, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting
Richardson, B. (2020). Topeka, Kansas Is Looking To Lure Remote Workers With A $10,000 Incentive. Forbes. Retrieved on September 24, 2020 from, https://www.forbes.com/sites/brendarichardson/2020/09/16/topeka-kansas-is-looking-to-lure-remote-workers-with-a-10000-incentive/#4338a4e16578
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.