Megatrend five: The world is virtually here

feature-virtually-here-200aThis is a six-part series on megatrends, exploring the compelling economic, social, environmental, political and technological issues facing Australia, as part of the CSIRO’s new report, Our Future World 2012.

In part four of this ongoing series on megatrends, Stefan Hajkowicz examined how the world is ageing and the challenges that creates. 

In part five, Hajkowicz discusses the ways technology has already changed the way we work and shop – and how easy it can be for businesses to be left behind.

I’ve signed an agreement with my employer that gives me the flexibility to work from home two days per week. According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that makes me one of 1.1 million employees in Queensland (58%) who use a flexible workplace arrangement and one of 253,187 Queensland employees (13%) who work from home.

It’s possible because of increased connectivity. I can sit there in my pyjamas and connect to Seattle and Sydney over a crystal clear video-link. It’s just like being in the office. Well, apart from the pyjamas and play school in the background.

Currently some 6% of the Australian workforce telecommutes – that means they generate the bulk of their income by working online from home or another off-site location. As part of the national broadband network expansion the Australian Government hopes to raise this to 12% by 2020. Where might it go in the future? Will it change our city design?

There’s a good chance it will. Linda Chandler of Microsoft and Phillip Ross of Unwork.com have recently published a white paper titled the “Anywhere Working City”.

They argue that coming decades will see information technology take a driving role in reshaping cities of the 21st century. Modern information and communication technology will increasingly remove the necessity for many workers to visit a physical location.

People can increasingly work from home, cafes, parks, libraries or other public spaces. Often referred to as a “third spaces” – being neither home nor office – these facilities are receiving increased interest and investment from private companies in office property sector.

They may become popular venues for knowledge and service workers. Given these workers make up the bulk of employees within major Australian cities urban design and transportation systems may change.

The rise of the virtual world is also leading to change in the retail sector. It’s more than a short term cyclical pattern. The Productivity Commission and the Reserve Bank are saying that changing consumer preferences, shifting expenditure patterns and growing online sales are all contributing to a structural shift within the Australian economy.

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