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Left Coast / Right Coast: The future of the changing workplace

It was Mark Cuban (famous for his billion-dollar wealth and success as Dallas Mavericks basketball team entrepreneur and owner) who said that in the near future automation will eliminate upwards of ten million middle class jobs. He went on to say that these jobs won't be replaced.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

It was Mark Cuban (famous for his billion-dollar wealth and success as Dallas Mavericks basketball team entrepreneur and owner) who said that in the near future automation will eliminate upwards of ten million middle class jobs. He went on to say that these jobs won't be replaced.

He was referring to his belief that automation will perform many current white collar jobs, and unlike past workplace innovations, new and different jobs won't be created. He said automation like artificial intelligence will perform the intellectual tasks that heretofore could not be done with computers.

I have commented before on walking along any major commercial street in Manhattan and looking up at the skyscrapers to see in just about every office window a person sitting at a computer screen.

What are all these people doing?

In many cases, they are massaging data (information) for their employer. Well, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a human is massaging data – that a computer equipped with very smart programs should be able to do the same.

In the past a computer was not able to beat a good human Chess player. But now, computers can routinely beat world chess masters. Why? Because the “logic” of playing Chess requires a player to think multiple moves ahead. A properly programmed computer, should be able to think dozens of moves ahead of a human player thereby getting the advantage.

Now add in the Coronavirus pandemic. We already have major corporations having a good portion of their information workers working from home. Amazon has already announced that a large percentage of their employees will have the option of continuing to work from home at least through the end of 2020.

Just think a minute about the economics of this. First of all, companies could “downsize” the amount of real estate space they require. If you use a conservative estimate of the cost of office space, you are talking about a minimum of several thousands of dollars in annual rental cost for each worker. 

If a company can successfully manage a good percentage of office workers working remotely, or use “floating” office space in the building, a small percentage of workers could work “in the office” on a rotating basis, and the company would save a great deal of money.

As to “how to manage” these remote workers, modern computer tools provide detailed reports on the productivity of every remote worker such that the company can function quite well. 

And as for missing those “face to face” meetings, we have Zoom and dozens of other collaborative working tools for that. 

A friend of mine is a senior executive in a major supermarket group with over 200,000 employees. Their IT department has over 2,000 people in it. Unfortunately, it is located in Silicon Valley where a “starter home” is well over $1 million. Guess what? Almost 50% of these IT workers don’t live in Silicon Valley!

Here’s another benefit of remote workers. It eliminates a great deal of commuting. When I worked in Manhattan, I had at least a 90 minute commute each way, both morning and afternoon. What a complete waste of time. 

Yeah, you can read a newspaper. In fact, I remember being taught in grammar school, how to fold a broadsheet newspaper so it could be read in the very tight space of a rush hour subway ride (even while one was standing – holding on to the overhead bar).

Another benefit for employees. Did you always want a five acre spread – so you could keep a pony for your kids to ride on? Well, if you’re working remotely, it does not matter where you live. So you would now have the option of living 100 miles from your former “city” office location. 

Another friend of mine happens to own a gas station. With our current pandemic, he told me gas sales are off over 40%. So if we want to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions, this is a great partial solution.

We can look forward to a permanent shift in how work is conducted. Other than the manufacturing of actual physical products (when one has to be “somewhere” for work), this will redefine how we all live and work.

Reminds me of an old apocryphal story. 

An owner of a company called all his workers together and announced that the company will be converting to 100% computerization. So, no workers will be required for the business to operate. 

He told them, “But don’t worry, everyone’s job will be protected. All you need do is show up once every week to collect your paycheck.” 

From the back of the room is heard a voice, “What, every week?”

Just shows you can’t please all the people all the time.

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