Back in 2007, I was working at Amgen in Seattle. We were in a building that had been built in 2004. In one of the conference rooms, there was a large monitor and camera, so that people in the Seattle office could have a meeting with those in other Amgen locations. The idea was to be able to let everyone meet “face-to-face” without having people physically travel. Unfortunately, because the technology was still “new”, most of management preferred not to use it.
After my department closed with Amgen, I went to work in the internal help desk at Safeco Insurance. To reduce the cost of renting office space, Safeco had set up some employees across the country with computers and internet that they used solely for work. Safeco would be providing a computer for the employee to use if they were in an office, so that cost was already there. So, all that Safeco had to figure out is, would it cost more to rent/furnish office space versus paying for the employee’s internet connection. When I left Safeco, the company was starting to remove the “work-from-home” program, due to concerns that the company could not actively supervise employees to ensure that they were working.
Currently, I work in downtown Seattle. There are a lot of people who work in downtown Seattle. Every day, we all commute to and from work. As Seattle continues to expand, the commute gets longer. Downtown Seattle is has water on three sides, which creates a “bottleneck” into the city from anyone commuting from the west, north, or east. South of Seattle is no better, because it was where most residents have lived the longest. It is also where the two main airports are located (Sea-Tac and Boeing Field). That makes it difficult to find land to build more roads or highways.
Another issue with the expanding downtown Seattle is the surge in housing costs. The cost for either renting or buying close to downtown Seattle has become almost unattainable for most families. In order to find an affordable place to live, workers are moving further and further away, making commuting longer and longer. The Seattle city council is even imposing rent restrictions to try to help, but they should not have to do that. My prediction is that soon, downtown Seattle will see a huge reduction of workers willing to work in restaurants, coffee shops, and stores. And/or, those businesses will need to severely hike up prices, just to keep workers.
Of course, I have a solution to all of this; satellite offices. These are smaller offices that are opened in cities close to Seattle. Places like Kent (south), Everett (north), Redmond (east), and Bremerton (west). They are close enough that if needed, workers can still travel to downtown Seattle for work that day.
As the two stories I wrote at the beginning of this post point out, the technology has existed to make this possible. In fact, I can make a video call from my desk phone to (almost) anyone else in any of our offices. So, why do I physically need to be in a conference room with them? And given that they would still be in an office environment, there should not be a concern that workers would be unsupervised.
As for the benefits, the obvious one would be the reduction in commute times. And, that would also spur the movement of people to move away from downtown Seattle, which would reduce housing costs in that area. It would also increase the revenue of businesses around the satellite offices that offer goods and services, which could then afford to hire more workers. But, the companies that provide the satellite offices would also see a financial benefit.
Along with the cost of housing, the cost of office space in downtown Seattle also is increasing. I’m guessing that the same square footage for office space in the cities I mentioned are a fraction of what it would cost. And, with more and more businesses moving to the satellite office model, just like with housing, the prices would also come down on office space. Of course, as more businesses also move to the satellite model, the office space in those cities will go up, but still would not be as much as downtown Seattle.
Just like with all new ideas, in order for any of this to happen, it would take some stepping back from what businesses have traditionally done. That is the most difficult part, because decision makers often stick with the ideas that have been tried and proven, which is understandable. However, companies that require face-to-face with the general public, like banks/credit unions, insurance companies, and retail companies already follow this model. So, it is not a new concept, just one that has not been fully adopted by all companies.