A big problem in a ‘small’ city
It’s no secret that Vancouver and Toronto are some of the most expensive places to live and work. We’re constantly hearing about the high costs and low availability of housing, as well as how local, provincial and federal governments should do more to solve these problems.
We’ve seen a number of possible solutions proposed (and some already implemented) including a foreign buyer’s tax, new taxes on empty homes, raising interest rates and making it harder to acquire mortgages. However, while these efforts have been somewhat successful in cooling the market, in my opinion these solutions are just band-aids and will only work in the short term.
Why wouldn’t getting rid of foreign buyers and property investors fix the problem? For starters, it has a lot to do with supply vs demand. Metro Vancouver remains a very desirable place to live: Surrounded by beautiful mountains, bordered by oceans and home to a large & vibrant mixture of cultures; it’s no surprise that a lot of people want to live here. In fact, demand has remained relatively strong despite the recent cooling efforts.
But the biggest issue by far, in my opinion, is that most people in Vancouver want to live there because they also work there. Think about it for a moment: commuting stinks, figuratively and literally (more on that later, so keep reading!). The vast majority of people who live in Metro Vancouver (and other urban centers) live in the outskirts and suburbs just so we can spend time driving or taking a bus / train to the office.
It’s asinine when you think about it – so why do we do it? Because most businesses are headquartered in downtown, and naturally that means pricing downtown becomes much more expensive – after all, wouldn’t everyone rather spend 5 minutes instead of 2 hours commuting each day?
While it’s easy to blame an influx of foreign buyers, corrupt city officials and shadow real estate agents (perhaps in no small part due to the political leverage that comes with it), there is another possible solution that I feel is being largely overlooked: working from home.
Why work from home
Working from home (also called telecommuting) is seen by many as a pipe dream. “Must be nice!” people say with an edge of cynicism. “Yeah must be wonderful to live life in an ivory tower. My boss would never allow such a thing.”
These statements exist for a reason; we’ve commuted for so long (over 150 years in fact) that people probably don’t even know what it’s like to work from home other than the fantasies created by social media, peer pressure and celebrity worship about about what it’s like to live life in someone else’s shoes.
But working from home doesn’t have to be seen as an unobtainable goal reserved only for society’s top performers. Itisn’t just for people who are self-employed either. Companies who encourage working remotely are ahead of the curve; I think it can be said that many are also quite successful (take Amazon for instance). But in order to make it part of cultural norm, we need to start changing our idea of what it means to work from home.
So with all of that out of the way, let’s get straight into why companies can and should let their employees operate remotely.
Working from home:
Reduces stress – Commuting is one of the most stressful aspects of our daily lives. We’ve all been there: Traffic is crawling, the constant stop and go is driving you up the wall. You just want to get home for dinner! Suddenly some rude person cuts you off and you feel the urge to re-enact a scene from Mad Max. The stress is maddening! But many of us deal with it every single day.
Makes people more productive – In many office environments, the daily gathering around the watercooler is a sacred tradition. It’s where all the latest and juiciest gossip takes place, and none of this is good for productivity (or company culture for that matter – gossip isn’t just bad for productivity, but it can hurt people and create toxicity).
In some places, being a slave to the cubicle or having an “open-door policy” forces people to endure constant interruptions. Sound familiar? Someone’s always got some problem that needs to be fixed immediately. Co-workers often engage in idle chitchat, watching the latest viral video on YouTube or any other number of distractions.
Working from home means you can close the door to your room if you need to, get work done while the kids are at school, listen to music, and make a pot of coffee while you work. It’s very relaxing compared to the hectic office environment, and in the words of Martha Stewart, it’s a good thing.
Would alleviate traffic congestion – Less cars means less maintenance needed for roads and transit, which would translate into lower costs for taxpayers. It also means less accidents which means lower ICBC insurance costs, and who doesn’t want that!
Would greatly reduce the need for building new infrastructure – For the same reasons as above, we would need less parking spaces, less freeways, less “arterial routes”, perhaps we could even get away with smaller bridges and tunnels. All of this translates into a huge savings for municipalities and governments which leads to more investment other important areas like healthcare and education.
Would greatly reduce the carbon footprint – I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but there is a theme here and it’s worth repeating. You guessed it, less cars also means less cO2 going into the atmosphere – a LOT less, which is important considering how bad things are getting with hurricanes and wildfires. Think about where we spend most of our time during our commute: sitting at a standstill, engines idling while we wait for the lights to change before resuming the slow, 30 km/h journey towards the downtown core.
Can benefit society – By making it easier for people to interact with others in their local neighbourhoods instead of hanging around the water cooler, working from home encourages more tight-knit communities. Working from home doesn’t necessarily mean working from home! What it actually means is working wherever you feel like, so long as there’s wifi. You can catch up with your neighbours at the coffee shop while you finish that report. Hey, why not tether your phone for a nice working day at the beach! Some managers might raise an eyebrow at these statements, but please continue reading; more will be explained shortly.
Allows more flexibility in where people choose to live – By a loose estimate, the average commute in Metro Vancouver is probably somewhere close to 2 hours. Largely due to the high cost of housing, people are already moving out of the city and living further out in suburban areas such as Maple Ridge, Langley and Chilliwack. Working from home could theoretically allow people to work effectively from almost anywhere high speed internet exists, so why not use this as an opportunity to hire people who live in other parts of the province (or other provinces for that matter?)
Look familiar? Commuting is one of the most stressful parts of working a full time job.
Working from home doesn’t just benefit people
It benefits businesses too! Keeping people happy means they are:
- Less likely to quit
- Less likely to ask for raises
- More likely to produce high-quality results
Remember earlier when I said managers might raise an eyebrow at moving watercooler talk to the local coffee shop, beach, or wherever? This is in essence allowing people to exist in their natural state of being, i.e. happy and content, while still being productive. Unless you’re one of those managers who tries to squeeze every last drop out of your employees, then why wouldn’t you want your workers to feel relaxed?
Further, allowing people to work from home would also dramatically reduce overhead costs, especially for businesses operating in expensive urban centres. Less space required means lower leasing costs, and businesses who own their buildings can lease out some of that unused space to other businesses to generate additional revenue. They can even rent it out temporarily for meetings!
Why working from home is more feasible than ever
Working remotely doesn’t have to be a chore. We’ve made leaps and bounds over the past decade; here are some examples:
We have the technology – The tech we have nowadays is more powerful, more connected and more accessible then ever before. For instance, you don’t need a fancy computer to tag into a remote server or operate a cloud-based application, which will render resource-intensive jobs on the company’s hardware instead of your own.
LTE connected smartphones, tablets and high-speed internet (even in many rural areas) have made us more connected than ever before – yet we still spend most of our time commuting back and forth to an office just so we can perform the same work we would otherwise be able to do on a computer or mobile device anywhere.
Previous shortcomings have largely been addressed – remote technology was once frowned upon by businesses because of security issues, expensive licensing, and even more expensive hardware that was required to run it. Nowadays, cloud giants such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft are providing solutions that cover software, cost of licensing and of course hardware and maintenance. It is no longer necessary to maintain a full-sized IT team just to run mail and database servers – that is all handled by the cloud providers, who provide patching, updates, security and server maintenance. In fact, most of them strive (and come pretty close) to consistently hitting 99% uptime.
We are at a crossroads of progression – The world around us is changing rapidly (and it shows no signs of slowing down). In terms of how we go about our daily lives, more and more people are forgoing labour jobs in favor of deskbound alternatives.
That’s probably a good thing, seeing as automation and robotics are set to eliminate most labour jobs over the next few decades (6% by 2021 to be exact). And it’s not just construction and manufacturing that will be affected: fast food, package delivery, trucking + transportation, cabs, ride-shares + buses, and even airport check-in and baggage handlers are already being replaced.
We are shifting to an ideas-based economy – the automation of many unskilled labour jobs means we’re hitting a point where people need to adapt or risk getting left behind. Society is changing quickly and one way to stay ahead of the curve is to eat sleep and breathe new ideas constantly. Best selling author + forward-thinking-powerhouse-turned-comedian (but still a forward-thinking powerhouse) James Altucher talks about this all the time, and I agree with him – because it’s already happening right in front of our very eyes.
Working from home is great, but there are a few key points to consider:
Not everyone can work from home – If you’re working in a job that requires a physical presence, e.g. massage therapist, coffee shop barista, construction worker, etc. then that obviously means you can’t simply pack your things and start working from home (unless you start your own business). However as mentioned in this article, society appears to be moving rapidly towards automating a large majority of these jobs, so it might be prudent to consider training for a new career (even if it’s just to have another skillset put aside in case something changes in the future).
Managers worry about what they’re really paying for – One of the top arguments from business owners about working from home is that they’re worried their staff will spend 20% of their time working and the rest of the time doing dishes, watching TV, playing video games and finding other ways to avoid doing what they’re supposed to in order to get paid.
However the real issue isn’t time spent; it’s the fact that managers feel the need to babysit their staff. We need to start focusing more on results-based performance vs. physical hours; studies have shown that letting your employees set their own schedules instead of focusing on time spent in the office produces better, well, results. Besides, people are already wasting time at work anyways; working from home doesn’t change that (and if they are wasting a lot of time at work, you should probably look into why that’s happening in the first place).
Does that mean that all employees should be trusted to be self-motivated? Not necessarily, but it does beg the question that if you can’t trust your employees to act like adults, then why hire them in the first place?
Burnout can happen at home too – If we’re not careful, working from home could easily result in situations where people are “always at work”. We need to take precautions and teach people how to “turn it off” when they are not working so they don’t replace the stress eliminated from commuting with that of being constantly connected to workplace emails 24x7.
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