Over the years, we’ve evolved from internet connectivity, to internet for businesses, to Internet of Things and now to the Next Generation Internet for Humans. The obvious question is — why now?
Today, in July 2020, we are at an interesting inflection point in society, with several large tipping point changes happening at the same time:
Technology changes — smartphones, with free streaming video and high speed internet are widely available. Global internet usage is now mostly on mobile devices — not desktop.
Changes in social contract — no more job for life. Average job tenure keeps shrinking. Even “temp/contract work” is shrinking to per-task/gig work.
Generational changes — Millennials became the largest segment of the US workforce in 2016; GenZ will become the second largest segment of the workforce this year (2020). Also, people who would “normally” have retired by now are staying in the workforce because they lost their pensions/savings during the last big recession, so have no choice but to keep working. These factors together mean this is the first time we have five different generations all in the workforce at the same time.
COVID-19 has been an accelerator of this trend, but it’s important to keep in mind that these trends have been going on for years before COVID-19. We don’t know how long COVID-19 will be a concern in the future, but I believe it is not measured in days or weeks.
Many companies in Silicon Valley have already announced not moving back to offices this year; some already said not until mid-2021, and many announced moving to a “remote first” workforce. While this might sound extreme, this is not “only” Silicon Valley.
To show how mainstream this is, in the City of London, some of the 30 largest employers are already talking about only 20-40% occupancy at most. One example I found recently was:
“I think the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past, and we will find ways to operate with more distancing over a much longer period of time.” Jes Staley, CEO Barcley
The “old normal” was not working for most people.
Traffic and commuting are so bad that demand for housing near offices is causing a housing crisis as well as gentrification-and-displacement disruptions for others who don’t work for that employer yet still need to live there for their job.
People were spending more time commuting to work. This caused the creation of “commuter towns” and “bedroom communities”, built for people who live and sleep there, but commute to work in a different town.
The environmental impact of all this traffic is significant. According to the California Air Resource Board, people driving cars, mostly to and from work, is 28% of total emissions. This is the single largest source of emissions. Everything else, trucks, planes, agriculture, electricity stations, are each under 10%.
Those who lived outside of commuting distance of employer offices have higher rates of long-term unemployment. Over time, they accurately felt more side-lined from the “booming economy”, which in many cases led to resentment of the economic and political status quo.
No surprise that two weeks ago, a Yougov survey in England found only 6% wanted life after COVID-19 to be exactly the same as it was before COVID-19.
Traditional Economic Development is when a jurisdiction gives money to a large employer so they will move to your town and create jobs.
- The company will pay corporate taxes, so eventually the jurisdiction gets its money back. Additionally, the company hires local humans, trains them as they progress up the career ladder and work there for life. Those newly-employed local humans also pay taxes. But the social changes mean that formula no longer works.
- Because of “no more job for life”, employers only want to move to a location where there are pre-trained unemployed candidates waiting to be hired. If not enough are there, a sudden influx of humans with those skills can cause gentrification and displacement of existing humans.
- Because of “no more job for life”, humans don’t want to relocate for a new job. Relocating is expensive and disruptive to family life. The trend towards dual-income families means someone has to give up their job to become a trailing-spouse. Especially when you know you’ll be switching jobs again in 1-2-3 years.
- Encouraging companies to relocate is hard, expensive and takes a long time. As Amazon discovered in New York recently, these disruptions are not always welcomed — for the reasons already described above.
If Traditional Economic Development is no longer working, now what? How about trying something different — Distributed Economic Development.
This is the heart of a law I helped write for the State of Vermont.
This “Remote Worker” law has these essential parts:
- Encouraging knowledge workers/creative class workers to relocate is easier, cheaper and faster than encouraging corporations.
- Each employed knowledge worker creates 4.8-5.7 jobs in the local community.
- Remember that humans are a social species. Even if we have high-speed internet at home and can work from home all the time, we need social interaction with other humans to work online over prolonged periods of time.
- Find an existing unused building in a formerly-walkable neighbourhood and convert it into a mixed-use neighbourhood coworking space. Think of this as a node on the Next Generation Internet of Humans. Nacho Rodrigues, Jamie Orr and others here are also doing this.
- Remodel the building with a specific layout — different to the typical coworking spaces seen in larger metro cities and which helps increase foot traffic to nearby businesses to help them also survive!
- Provide incentives for some knowledge workers/creative class people to move to your community to help introduce these new concepts into daily life and start the movement in that location.
- Have existing residents help newly-arriving residents with practical logistics and local advice, fostering a sense of community. This helps new arrivals feel welcomed, which improves the “retention rate” for the community. This also helps new arrivals feel comfortable showing how they work online to existing residents who have useful work skills, yet never believed they could continue living in their community, with a real career online…
How does this work?
People move to live in your neighbourhood, bringing their existing jobs with them and start working from your small neighbourhood coworking space. Even when they change employer jobs every few years, they still live in the same neighbourhood and still walk to work online from the same neighbourhood coworking space.
These people diversify the tax revenue for your community, which is important to avoid the risk of an “all eggs in one basket” econom
The more people do this, the more their neighbours see they also can find real meaningful jobs online. This helps reduce “brain drain” caused by people graduating school/university and leaving town looking for jobs elsewhere.
Because they are all walking to neighbourhood coworking spaces, they are not commuting in cars or public transport, which helps the environment immediately and for low cost.
Does this really work? YES!
These carefully combined parts of the State of Vermont’s “Remote Worker” law I helped write were wildly successful and I’m now working on similar laws and policies for other jurisdictions. It’s not just me. In the US, others have done similar initiatives for places like Tulsa, OK, Savannah, GA, Alabama and Utah.
Jamie Orr, Nacho Rodriguez, Faye Scarlet and Mayur Sontakke (and others!) are each doing this, in slightly different ways, with their neighbourhood community coworking spaces. Each is successful in their own business. Each has been successful in supporting other businesses in their community. Each is helping to diversify, stabilize and grow their local economy.
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A copy of this months’ digest (magazine) and opportunities to make meaningful new connections across shared interests:
- Access to other contributors via the community forum
- Ticket to an invitation-only session at our 2021 international conference
- First access to future community digests and event invitations
How is this financed?
This Community Journalism project and publication is part of the NGI Forward initiative. Launched by the European Commission in the autumn of 2016, NGI stands for Next Generation Internet. It has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 825652 from 2019-2021. You can learn more about the initiative and our involvement in it at https://ngi.edgeryders.eu
Where does this lead?
The contents of Edgeryders “Internet of Humans” NGI Forum and the Community Journalism project are analysed using the SSNA method. The results are then sent to EU lawmakers to be incorporated into policy recommendations. It will also inform a conference at the end of the project and selected articles and contributions will be published in book form as the “Next Generation Internet - Edgeryders Digest”. The authors of the selected articles who agree to them being published in that book will also be invited personally to the final conference.