Skip to content
Who's in the Video

Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky is a writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He is an adjunct professor at New York University's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program[…]

”I don’t believe that there’s any work coming in which the telecommuting model becomes the normal case for most workers.”

Question: What will the workplace of the future look like?  
rn
 
Clay Shirky: Well so, the “everybody can work from rnwherever they are” logic has been around for a long time.  And in fact, rnwell again, well predates the Internet.  I mean, really, in every rnconsecutive year since the 1964 World’s Fair, when AT&T you know, rnunveiled their video phone, we’ve been promised that video conference isrn going to mean that nobody has to have, you know... there doesn’t need rnto even be any business travel anymore. And that has turned out to not rnmerely to be wrong, but actually exactly backwards.  Which is to say, rncommunications and transportation are not substitutes for one another rnexcept at the margins. They’re mainly compliments, right?  If you talk rnto somebody for a long time, after a while, you want to meet them rnface-to-face.  And if you meet someone face-to-face and like them, or rnhave business to do with them, and then you separate, guess what?  You rnwant to stay in touch. So, more transportation drives more rncommunication, more communication drives more transportation. In rnparticular, the ability to connect with the home office using these rntools have meant more people have spent more time on the road because rnface time with clients is often more valuable than face time with rnco-workers. 
 
So, I don’t believe that there is... I don’t rnbelieve that there’s any work coming in which the telecommuting model rnbecomes the normal case for most workers.  It just... getting humans in rnthe same room creates a kind of coordinating value that’s impossible to rnreplicate in software right now. Again, to the open source people... rneven open source projects they’ll periodically all fly to the same city rnto sit around and, you know, work together in the same room.  So, I rnthink the workplace of the future, I think the big change in the rnworkplace of the future is an increasingly loft-like flexibility.  rnRight? If you look at what Jennifer McNolty is doing at Herman Miller, rnthe research on configurable work spaces.  I think that what we’ve rnlearned about businesses and habiting existing loft basis, such as the rnone in which we are doing this interview, is that the flexibility of thern business to periodically reconfigure itself matters more than the kind rnthat "anybody can work from anywhere" logic which has not played out rnvery well. 
 
So, I think the premium is going to be on rndesigning work spaces that are a good fit for whatever the local work rnclimate is, but still using the space as places to get people together rnface-to-face because social pools, you know, social software, is not rnbetter than face-to-face, it’s just better than nothing.

Recorded on May 26, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown