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The Anywhere Economy Series

Shanghai Principles

It’s distances that bring workers together.

At 24 million people, Shanghai accommodates for flexible work arrangements.
Image Credit; Denys Nevozhai

Shanghai, Spring 2017; my daily commute took a full hour each way. I’d travel metro lines 4, and 2 from Cao Yang Rd to Zhanjiang Hi-Tech Park, via Century Avenue. It was noisy, pushy, and in a Chinese rush hour – animalistic. Two things kept me going; the street breakfasts and working from my phone.

The trains were crowded – but negotiating a space along the wall meant having two free hands to type on my phone and make use of these 2 free hours a day. It’s how I made some valuable Yuan on the side – writing out major projects for DJs, assessing Biographies for Artists, even making important conference calls. In all, a good 20 per-cent of my income came from this otherwise exhausting journey.

Mobile devices are adaptable for work in real-time, turning commutes into valuable working opportunities.
Image Credit; Matheus Bertelli

My superiors too became enthusiastic, allowing me to conduct final edit jobs via Smartphone upon my commute home – it cost the company nothing, of course, as versatile cloud computing meant documents and presentations could be completed across devices. In fact, it soon became apparent that for many tasks, writers didn’t always crave a desk, and with the advent of smartphone office apps and ultrabooks, a final product could be completed from miles away. It’s not a setup to suit the entire world’s white-collar population, but it’s a foundation stone in the argument for remote work.

The open office is dead, or just dying – we think. At least, this buzzword has made several enemies throughout the years. Fuelled by fuming office employees from across creative, journalistic, and sales-focused industries – the ‘open-plan movement’ is slammed for being counterproductive, strangling companies’ bottom lines.

They were the next solution to ‘cubicle offices’ promising collaboration and freedom of information exchange. Instead, an Oxford Economics study, reported by Forbes in 2016, highlighted peoples’ dissatisfactions – with tendencies to ‘box-in’ referring to communicating via messaging services, social media, thereby ultimately hindering the intended flow of constructive discussion.

The open & ‘collaborative’ nature of open offices is in-fact detrimental to focus and productivity.
Image Credit; Helena Lopes

Such studies are still in their infancy, and have a margin for error regarding irrational factors, namely company size, global work cultures, and geographical factors. But they do share a common denominator. It’s that different departments are often squeezed under the same roof and to ill-effect both management and employee-side. This too is echoed by separate studies listed in both Inc., and Economist Intelligence Unit.

The question therefore is; if the intention is to keep productivity at its peak, and office space remains at a premium, then why not shrink the roof entirely, and nudge people outside?

Jianbing Pancake cart, China – some businesses are at their best, when on the road.
Image Credit; Wanderlust Explorers

Back in Shanghai, I’d ponder this over my still-beloved daily breakfast. Served from a giant hot plate atop a bike cart, between 5:00am and 10:00am, the Jianbing street food pancake contained some parsley, red beans, 2 eggs, and chili sauce, should you dare so. It was my unequivocal favourite, and virtually unobtainable beyond the mid-morning.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Shanghai streets, a setting for culinary and business success.
Image Credit; Joshua Earle

It’s exclusively street food, not usually served from kitchens of brick & mortar restaurants. And the reason; its equipment is only needed a certain time of day, and being too large, doesn’t make sense to be kept in-view. In all, the Jianbing business model is a strictly mobile one – appearing only when demanded, thereby keeping overheads at a minimum – freeing up its ‘real estate’ for late night noodle woks or barbeque grills. In all, it’s a Minimum Viable product at its greatest, and most delicious.

Working remotely is a solution revered by the worker in-particular. It is of course, demotivating to some, and a potential ‘trust’ worry for the employer. But ultimately, adopting a hybrid approach, of scheduled office appearances and periodical meetings combines a growing comfort to IT, Media, and Creative supports embracing ‘gigs’ as a sizable portion of their incomes.

The groundwork is already being laid out, literally. In select major UK cities, such as London and Manchester, as well as in Seoul, South Korea and across Poland – 5G networks are enabling bandwidths capable of realising large-scale real-time collaborations in design, and data projects between users. The capabilities also enable stable live work sessions, and large data transfers – further streamlining projects.

London, United Kingdom, next-gen Internet across major cities increases bandwidth, enabling more prompt large-scale data transfers.
Image Credit; Joao Barboso

This will of course have the drawback of enabling better connectivity to some of the internet’s greatest distractions. And whilst YouTube will continue to thorn manager’s sides – the world has no shortage of motivated workers, a click away and verifiable via online tests, and plagiarism detection software.

Today’s CTOs, and budding entrepreneurs seek Lean. The ability to erase 4 walls is a start – but take a step further towards greater autonomy – and the costs might certainly fall. Systems in-place such as metrics, communications scheduling, and of course, project management schemes can be shared online – without bulky infrastructure. Traditionally, coffee shops already provide most of the infrastructure required to keep a meeting at full alertness, hence their continued popularity. For those still loving printers (and paper jams), there’s a solution to that too.

At the end of the day, the bottom-line states deadlines will be a given – but reaching and beating project and delivery targets can always feel easier by granting freedom and responsibility to remote workers. If an employer seeks to provide the ‘tools’ for championing and enabling the worker – then allowing them to work on their own terms appears like the next logical step.

Empowering individuals with necessary tools, can and will likewise enable their success.
Image Credit; Startup

Whilst these are speculative experiments in workplace allocation – granting existing employees or offering remote-work to new workers can prove a productive step, as niche roles and responsibilities will be allotted more appropriately proportional overheads.

People will need motivation, and enabling systems is a new challenge that’d have to be mastered, but if you build it – they will come. Remote work enables people freedom to roam the fields, yes. But so long as a disciplined structure is in-place, as well as the occasional infrastructure – the relationship will remain fully productive.

This of course will be explained in broader detail; as we explain the world of remote work, and how flexible arrangements can work for the Manager and Employee alike! It’s a changing world, with more flexibility – it’s time to master it.

Shanghai, China, unprecedented expansions of cities worldwide render traditional working arrangements redundant.
Image Credit; Zhao Chen

Meanwhile, Jianbing pancakes continue to be a hit, and whilst they’re a warm breakfast memory I’d gladly revisit – I can’t from where I am. A quick Google search reveals that although these pancakes exist outside of China – and despite their popularity abroad, the restaurants selling them are scarce. We won’t conclude as to why, but costs are always a gremlin.

We invest in a strategy often much in the same way we invest in foods. Eggs can be eggs, but for some reason – both rational and irrational; free-range feels a whole lot better than caged.

Discover more, with our new Anywhere Economy Series.

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