New work-at-home regulations offer a hint of the near future
Written by Michael Lewis on October 2, 2018
Traffic congestion is hastening a trend toward doing more business more of the time at home. If you don’t have to commute to get there, you’ve added productive time and cut travel costs, making home work more appealing than ever.
That trend was part of the reason that Miami-Dade County commissioners last month tweaked the regulations that permit residents to actually work in their own homes – at least, in areas outside of city boundaries.
Home work has always held an appeal. It’s convenient and it’s comfortable – sometimes in a robe and slippers or a sweatshirt, and comfortably near the refrigerator. And home workers can pat themselves on the back for saving energy and reducing pollution associated with commuting.
But as commuting becomes more time-consuming and stressful, the attractiveness of staying at home to work grows, not just in Miami but across the nation.
About 43% of employed Americans say they now spend at least some of their time working remotely, according to a Gallup poll. And last month the Miami-Dade commission voted to ask the mayor to report back within 120 days on the efficacy and cost-efficiency of the county creating countywide telecommuting centers for its own workers.
Going daily to telecommuting centers, however, isn’t the same as doing your commuting right in your own living room.
Last year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 23% of all US workers on days that they worked spent at least some time working at home, up from 19% in 2003.
Interesting to note is that numbers of those home workers rose directly with educational attainment – the better educated the worker, the more likely to have done some or all work at home, the federal study found. Of workers over age 25 with advanced degrees, 46% did some home work versus 32% for those with bachelor’s degrees and just 12% of those with a high school diploma.
One inference from these figures is that working at home increases with income to the extent that higher education leads to higher income. That means that more work is being done in higher-cost residences than in lower-income homes.
The county legislation last month that loosened strictures on licensed businesses doing work within homes was passed in an atmosphere of concern that “there goes the neighborhood” when work is done in residential settings. “It brings a lot of openings to things that we don’t want in our residential areas,” Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said in the debate.
But that assumes that anyone outside of the residence can tell that income-producing work is being done there. You can bet that on Fisher Island more than one person earns what most of us would call a very good annual income very legally from a laptop in the living room in a multi-million-dollar residence. It doesn’t seem to be ruining the neighborhood.
Jean Monestime, who introduced the county legislation, cited artists working at home. “We’re trying to offer more opportunities for those who want to have a home-based business,” he said.
Doing that is frankly just keeping up with the times and the trends in what Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava noted as “the most entrepreneurial place, perhaps, in the country.”
And, of course, one of the more congested places in the country, with a huge gap in convenient and effective public transportation that could alleviate some of that congestion.
We are at the juncture where technology makes possible remote work, economics makes commuting more costly, societal changes make cottage industries highly acceptable, urbanization broadens opportunities for niche occupations, entrepreneurship is not only encouraged but publicly funded, mobility is slowed by increased population and added congestion, and the cost of living decreases the farther people live from their place of employment.
All of those factors seem to create fertile ground for dispersion from traditional workplaces nationally and, as Ms. Levine Cava accurately notes, more so in a highly entrepreneurial community like Miami.
The debates in the county commission from July through September’s passage of new rules on working at home are likely to shift in the future to what residential zoning should actually be and what it is meant to discourage or encourage.
The live-work-play community concept is now at its peak in the live-work-play high-rise complex in Miami’s densest areas. It’s logical to expect that concept to begin shifting farther out from population hubs into what we used to call bedroom communities.
The new county legislation seems needed. Over time it is likely to be altered. It is even more likely to lead soon to new definitions of “residential” neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County that match the way we live today rather than the suburban lives of the 1960s.