Surprisingly, the Internet still hasn’t enabled the majority of people to work from a home office. Of course there are many freelancers who do just this, but lots of offices have many employees who are supposed to turn up every day, sit down at their computer, do their job and leave at the end of the day, in spite of the fact that they could just as easily have done their job from home.
Why is this? My impression is that most of the actual work people do can just as easily be done remotely.
One potential reason is that virtual meetings still aren’t as useful as face-to-face ones. Cameras aren’t good enough, and it isn’t easy to be looking at the same presentation or the same computer screen while talking (I’m not saying it isn’t possible, just that tools for this aren’t ubiquitous).
The other potential reason I can think of is that bosses find it hard to supervise their staff if they cannot physically sneak up on them. In theory, this could be resolved by putting a webcam in every home-worker’s office so that the boss can see what people are doing. I doubt many people would like that, but I presume some people would find it a price worth paying for avoiding the commute.
Anyway, let’s assume for now that it’s likely that a software company will one day soon release a program that makes working from home feasible and desirable, to a point where companies wouldn’t actually provide office space for most of their employees.
What would the consequences be? Many people would quickly realise that their is little point in paying astronomical rents in London, New York or one of the other global metropolises when they could do their job just as easily from a remote location where the costs of living are lower.
Soon people would start moving to cheap locations with decent weather, beautiful scenery and good food. Other things people would be looking for would include the quality of the schools, the presence of an international airport (for the rare occasions when you need to attend a face-to-face meeting or a conference), and the attractiveness of the tax system for people with foreign incomes.
Of course there would still be many good reasons for living in London or New York, but if just 20% of the current inhabitants were to leave without being replaced by a new influx, rents would collapse and whole areas would become ghost towns, and this process would make it even less attractive to live in a metropolis.
On the other hand, I imagine that areas such as the Scottish Highlands, the depopulated villages of many Mediterranean countries and the Caribbean islands would become new property hotspots.
This would be a huge difference compared to the last few decades. It seems to have become more and more attractive to live in a metropolis, probably because the disappearance of jobs for life, as well as the increase in couples where both have a career, has made it imperative to live in a place where there are plenty of job opportunities within commuting distance. However, as I’ve argued above, this might all be about to change.