Articles on Remote Work and Transportation in the US Before COVID-19

I did my urban planning doctoral research on remote work, just before COVID-19 hit. The articles that emerged, some in collaboration with coauthors, may help in considering what’s next for sustainable transport and smart cities. The topics/questions below can guide you to the best article for your interests, and there are summaries, excepts and selected charts and tables below. If you can’t access full articles through your institution, please contact me.

Remote Work and Daily Travel

  • How prevalent and in what forms was remote work in the US before COVID-19?
  • How does remote work affect daily travel?
Spaces of Remote Work

  • What determines work location practices?
  • How can we understand interaction between physical and virtual spaces of work?
Remote Work and Sustainability

  • What can we learn from the history of telecommuting advocacy about solving environmental problems?

1 Stiles, J., & Smart, M. J. (2020). Working at Home and Elsewhere: Daily Work Location, Telework, and Travel Among United States Knowledge Workers. Transportation, 1-31.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11116-020-10136-6
Data: American Time Use Survey 2003 to 2017
Summary: The mediation of work practices by information and communication technologies enables knowledge workers to telework from remote non-office locations such as their homes, or to work nomadically from multiple locations in a day. Home was by far the most common non-office work location, but working from other people’s homes, cafés/libraries, vehicles, and combinations of multiple locations were also observed. Working from home only on a day (full-day telework) decreased daily travel duration and increased the likelihood of avoiding peak hour travel for both work and non-work related travel. However, for homeworkers who also conduct work from their workplace on the same day (part-day telework), there was no reduction in daily travel time, and avoiding peak hour travel was limited to work-related travel. Working from other locations such as cafés/libraries or vehicles increased the likelihood of not traveling at peak hours. Morning peak periods were more affected by work location decisions than evening peaks. A survival analysis of daily departure times for both full-day and part-day homeworkers provides insight into this mechanism. [SEE FULL ARTICLE]
2 Stiles, J., & Andrews, C. (2019). Powers of Division: “Smart” Spaces as Controlling Workplace Activity Fragmentation. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1080/24694452.2019.1672519
Data: Interviews with workers/observation in NYC
Summary:”Smart” spaces, both virtual and physical, are not created accidentally or by evolutionary processes. Rather, they are planned for and made actors in the solving of organizational problems related to activity fragmentation. Cyberspaces of work are supported by collaborative technologies based on mobile cloud computing infrastructure, yet these spaces are subject to organizational control through territoriality and surveillance. Physical spaces of work, including third-party-managed spaces beyond workplace and home are also subject to limitations on physical and network access. Control over the territory of overlapping smart physical work spaces and smart cyber work spaces represents a power to divide activities across time and space with implications for travel. This includes controlling physical access, wireless networks, access to private networks through a VPN, and access to work data and collaboration software. Smart work spaces are also an instantiation of the abstract intentions of the designers of their component technologies. Proprietary productivity suites are important, because they highlight corporate power and influence in the supply of smartness. [SEE FULL ARTICLE]
3 Stiles, J. (2020). Strategic niche management in transition pathways: Telework Advocacy as Groundwork for an Incremental Transformation. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 34, 139-150. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2019.12.001
Data: Historical case study; Various documents
Summary: The notion of “telecommuting” emerged in the 1970s as a strategy to confront societal problems related to the journey between home and workplace. Automobile traffic and its relationship with land use was a central concern of planning in the US by 1970, particularly its connection to roads congestion and air quality. This article finds the decades-long efforts of advocates to advance the notion of telecommuting to be a case of strategic niche management that contributed to an incremental transformation of office work location. In its first decades, telework advocacy showed elements of strategic niche management including vision and expectations, learning processes, and social networks. Supported by environmental and economic landscape pressures, trip reduction and travel demand management policies opened up protected spaces at local, state, or federal levels for the practice of telework, with agencies as experimenters. Yet as landscape pressures lessened, incumbent actors took ownership of the innovations of telework, and shifted their vision to one that considers telecommuting as a function of human resources rather than a societal imperative. This case shows the importance of considering the long view in efforts to influence environmental outcomes. [SEE FULL ARTICLE]

Excerpts and Selected Tables/Charts