Jean-Paul Rodrigue (2013), New York:
Routledge, 416 pages.
Information Technologies and Mobility
Author: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue
1. Information Technologies and Transportation
The emergence and diffusion of information and telecommunication
technologies (ICT) have several economic and social impacts, notably
on functions related to information processing and diffusion. One of
the ongoing tenets is that ICT can offer a form of substitution for
physical mobility. Particularly, it can be expected that work-related
movements can be mitigated through telecommuting.
Telecommuting. Using information and telecommunication technologies
to perform work at a location away from the traditional office location
and environment. Commuting is thus substituted and it is implied
that it took place remotely.
There are obviously various degrees of telecommuting ranging from
a partial substitution where a worker may spend one day per week performing
work at another location, to a complete substitution where the work
is performed elsewhere, such as in an offshore call center. The latter is much less likely as the great majority
of work tasks tend to be collaborative and require face-to-face meetings.
Yet, with the emergence of an information
society, the transactional structures of the economy have changed
drastically towards a networked organizational form to which ICT support
improved and more intensive interactions. There interactions involve
three major spheres:
2. Telecommuting and Mobility
Computers, networking and related information and communication technologies
continue to push the centrifugal forces that have shaped the physical
structure of metropolitan areas around the world outward. Reducing automobile use is one of the primary expected
benefits of telecommuting, as it is assumed that corresponding home-to-work
trips will not be made. Telecommuters usually eliminate two trips per
day when they work at home. If this commuting was done driving, the
reduction of trips has obviously environmental benefits, including reduced
emissions of pollutants and reduced fossil fuel use.
Telecommunications, like the automobile, has become a force shaping
land use and transportation in urban areas. Cheaper space in the
suburbs is an important requirement for newer and smaller firms that
are users of new telecommunications technologies. The growing capability
of telecommunications allows businesses and other organizations to locate
operations more flexibly, but this may be perceived as paradoxical as
telecommuting may be supporting an energy inefficient spatial structure.
This all said, telecommuting has often failed the meet expectations
and its share remain relatively unchanged. There are many reasons, ranging
from activities that cannot be easily substituted to a loss of direct
control from management. One major factor behind this continuing low
usage level is that if a job has the potential to be complemented by
telecommuting it is also a target to be relocated in a low cost location
either through outsourcing or offshoring.
There is thus a large amount of telecommuting that took place as offshoring
instead. Also, many workers use forms of telecommuting to work
overtime and carry extra work at home. Therefore, telecommuting allows
employers to impose longer work hours as well as insure a higher level
of availability of employees to work on a on-call basis outside regular
3. Telecommuting and Office Space
Location and larger building sizes have dominated retailing
and offices since the Second World War. Indeed, newer and larger stores
overtook smaller rivals and established new distribution structures
based on mass retailing. The standard 2,000 square feet market of the
1950s, became the 20,000 square feet supermarket in the 1960s and evolved
into the 50,000 square feet superstore of the 1990s. Following a similar
trend, the small office of a company has become several floors in a
skyscraper located in downtown areas and in time the amount of space
devoted to administrative functions has increased significantly.
Competition and technological changes are forcing corporations
to recognize real estate as an undermanaged asset as occupancy cost
is the second largest corporate expense after wages. Telecommunications
advances may lead to a change in the space needs of several corporations,
as more services can be performed with less office and branch space.
Telecommuting workers also tend to be more productive as they systematically
spend more time working, mainly because they are not spending that time
commuting but also ICT makes them more available to perform tasks.
Most corporations see telecommuting as a way to reduce costs,
not necessarily to promote the welfare of their office employees, even
if they are doing both at the same time. The costs of providing office
space to employees are very high, far more than just the cost of leasing
or building the space and maintaining it. It also concerns, for instance,
parking which tends to be more expensive in high density areas often
related with office activities. In some cases, it can run as high as
20 to 30% of disbursed salaries per employee. In 2007, nearly 20 million
workers in the United States (about 3% of the total workforce) were
telecommuting at least once a month.
The expected impacts of telecommuting on office space and on the general urban
environment can be summarized by the following:
- Personal. ICT enables individuals to maintain contact
through additional mediums (e.g. email). This may lead to more
interactions. The diffusion of
personal computing devices (e.g.
laptops, smart phones and tablet computers) have also enabled
individuals to enrich their mobility by enabling them to perform
various tasks while in transit or outside a conventional office
setting. Several applications, such as global positioning
systems, enables individuals to better manage their mobility.
- Customer / Retailer. Online retailing has opened a whole
new array of commercial opportunities as a complement or a substitution
to conventional shopping. It does not necessarily imply that there
would be more consumption, but that a growing share of retailing
transactions takes place online, resulting in parcels to be delivered.
- Business to business. The increasing scale and intensity
of business transactions is commonly linked with new efficiencies,
particularly through supply chain management.
- The rapid proliferation of electronic communications,
such as cellular phones, intranets and teleconferencing,
- Telecommuting is part of a paradigm where organizational
structures are being transformed for a hierarchy to a network
- Telecommuting is changing parts the retailing sector
by rendering some location structures obsolete and by minimizing
- Telecommuting helps lower office space requirements by
decentralizing a set of tasks to a low cost environment, such as
the suburbs or at home, or by permitting their complete
offshoring to low cost locations. They are a corporate strategy to improve
the productivity of labor.
- Telecommuting reduces the usage of the urban transport system
because fewer trips are generated and distances are shorter and
may reduce congestion. This impact has so far been marginal.
- Telecommuting improves the flexibility of office activities
by offering a wider array of locational choices.