Commuting & Telecommuting – Web Workers Arise!


Proposed Manchester congestion charging zonesWWD’s Mike Gunderloy recently commented on Sun Microsystem’s study of the impact of telecommuting on a worker’s carbon footprint. Coincidentally, on the same day policy changes in the UK may mean that telecommuting sees a sharp increase as the options for actual commuting rise in cost and narrow the ability of people to travel into urban centers.

Following the success of London’s congestion charge, launched in 2003, other UK cities such as Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol have begun to explore similar schemes. The UK government approved a congestion charging programme for Manchester – the country’s defacto second city – which would charge inbound morning commuters the equivalent of $4-6 and outbound evening commuters around $2. I guess that’s around a gallon of fuel each day by US standards!

The rising cost of fuel globally coupled with the UK’s antiquated public transport infrastructure could mean that the vibrant urban core of Manchester – undergoing somewhat of a renaissance – could begin to diffuse as commuters opt to exercise their option to work-from-home.

But this isn’t a bad thing for Manchester – the city has a great infrastructure, a large media industry (including Google UK’s second office and BBC’s New Media arm) and is becoming an emerging hub for the digital industries.

However, there’s a signal here that civic planners, creative/ digital employers and local government need to think more creatively about urban design. Web Workers can be at the leading edge of such a debate, already adopting to new realities such as remote tools, social media and coworking as replacements and alternatives for traditional commuting and office life.

Can we see traditional centralized employers diffusing across large metropolitan area? After all, kids don’t all go to a central ‘school district’ or doctors to a ‘healthcare district’, why do we expect large and small corporations to behave this way?

It’s not difficult to envisage a city such as Manchester populated by hundreds of coworking spaces with large employers such as the BBC, Google and others sharing these spaces, integrating schools, childcare and public transport hubs…oh wait, that’s suburbia!

Seriously, there’s a role for the readers of this blog to play in shaping the urban future of the cities we live in as sustainable living becomes increasingly important to urban life. How can this community start shaping this debate and bring its experiences to the table for other sectors?



Ditto that remark about de facto 2nd city. De facto is hardly the case, especially given the de facto debate over whether the UK’s 2nd city is Glasgow! The lesson here is that people enjoy a debate without being too hung up on which place gets the title. They’re all great cities.


Nice article, but one minor quibble:

“Manchester – the country’s defacto second city”

Actually, that’s a little controversial… most people in the UK would still consider that to be Birmingham. There have been various unofficial polls that suggests otherwise, but these are usually taken from small samples and international sources.

Jim - ki work

v interesting post – there’s definitely a cultural and structural change that will take place if (when) online work becomes a norm.

For movements like Transition Towns – which aim to increase local sustainability and minimize environmental impact – web working provides a high-value, low-impact means for employment.

The challenge is to find, distribute and organise this work. Will be interesting to see how we do it!

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