Though we intend to buy a second car soon, we are currently still operating with one. This is mostly my fault, as I am having a very hard time getting my head around the idea of driving a minivan. As of October, I will have three children who require car seats or booster seats, and I know that minivans are very practical. I also know that what kind of car you drive says absolutely nothing about you as a person. On the other hand, I’m having a hard time pulling the trigger, perhaps hoping there will be a new car on the market soon that is sleeker, more sophisticated, and gets better gas mileage (and holds three children).
Anyway, since we’re still at one car, I drove my husband to the airport at 5:45AM the other morning. Driving in Philadelphia often requires a trip on the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76). It is the only real highway leading out of Philadelphia and up toward the suburbs and suburban corporate parks to the city’s north. It is also wedged between the hills and the Schuylkill River, which means that expanding it would be a logistical nightmare. Consequently, traffic seems to be heavy at all hours of the day, both directions. The cars were moving at 5:45AM, but they were not zipping freely. And by 6:30 when I was on my way home, you would have had a hard time going the speed limit the whole way. I can only imagine what it looked like at 8AM.
I have spent the past 9 years working out of home offices, so I have mostly been able to avoid rush hour driving and traffic (and mass transit travel). I’ve also spent plenty of that time pondering why we work the way we do. Some jobs are location specific. While we can ponder an interesting future where hair cuts, grocery store shelf-stocking, brain surgery and caring for children can all be done remotely, at the moment, you pretty much have to go where your job is for professions like that.
But many of us don’t have such jobs, and yet the old school belief persists: that you need to be in a specific place (preferably a large, sprawling, suburban corporate campus) during specific times to actually be working. I know there is great value in collaboration, but one could also see a great middle ground, where many information workers work remotely 1-2 days a week. Given the algorithms of traffic, a mere 16% reduction in cars on the road during rush hour (the estimated 40% of people who could work remotely working at home 2 days per week), you could cut travel time considerably. This would save on gas and carbon emissions, and boost productivity.
So will we see change on that front? I don’t know. I’m writing a piece for Fortune.com on the future of the suburban office park (got thoughts or know an expert on this topic? Let me know!). Many young workers would prefer to work in cities, and even some older workers who want suburban houses prefer work locations that are accessible by public transit. Crain’s did a piece recently claiming such parks were on the decline. As we slowly move out of the Organization Man era where the leadership wants a giant empire of employees they can see, maybe we will finally come to see remote work not as a perk but as a much smarter way of working. But old attitudes die hard. I was discussing the topic with someone in publishing recently. Trust me, there is nothing urgent or location-specific going on with this particular publication. The editor told me that remote work sounded fascinating. “Of course, it would never work for us,” he said.
And hence, we’re all in traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway at 6:30AM.
In other news:
- Ellen Galinsky has a piece at the Huffington Post on the “male mystique.” In dual income families, men appear more likely to report work-family conflicts than women. Why? As we discussed here recently, men work more hours than their wives for pay — and yet the parenting standards for men have also risen quite a bit in the last 40 years.
- J. D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly writes that “Every purchase is a trade-off.” Money is perfectly fungible, so every decision to spend it on one thing is a decision not to spend it on something else. Everything has an opportunity cost. Readers of this blog will recognize this idea from the “What Else Could That Ring Buy?” newsletter essay this winter (and the title of chapter 1 in All The Money In The World!)