Hands Off, Brain On – How Autonomous Driving Is Revolutionizing Work.

Who Really Needs an Office?

Mobile Office.

Around 1900, there were two or three office workers for every hundred industrial workers. Today, two-thirds of employees work in an office. And digitization will continue to radically change the constitution of the world of work. Today, there’s a growing army of mobile work nomads, working on a project basis, not attached to any one place and no longer bound to fixed working hours. Instead of being in a plush company office, they are almost always encountered working at clients’ premises, in a café or co-working space, on the train, or in the airport lounge. Tablets and smartphones allow us to quickly turn a vacation home on a remote island into a place of work. So more and more, work and play are merging – almost imperceptibly.

Office buildings are thus often a kind of scenery which disguises the fact that we have long since converted to mobile offices on two legs. The march of time is even bearing down on the conventional company car. In many contexts, it’s regarded as a rolling proof of the capacity of its driver. But is it also a site of productivity, as the name “company car” suggests?

Company cars: conditionally useful.

It’s true that conferencing calls can be held hands-free these days, that emails can be read out and dictated, and that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay can be used to load apps and speaking aids – but this isn’t especially liberating. A study by the University of Sussex has shown that even calls via speakerphone significantly distract the driver. Mercedes-Benz provides at least a little relief for this, and has teamed up with Microsoft to provide Office services. This product is meant to offer drivers smart help – and thus make their phones unnecessary. It knows the work diary inside and out, dials up conference calls automatically and stores data on the next meeting spot in the navigation system.

Like a digital secretary. But besides dealing with pure communication, there’s still one more big gap. It’s still not possible to do quality work in the car.

The office car is coming.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. The car is becoming a “third place” – an adaptive location and perhaps the most important one after the home and the office. With fascinating interior concepts like with the XiM17 from Yangfeng Automotive Interiors or the Concept Study F 0151 presented by Daimler, a new window for productivity is emerging. The front seats can be rotated 180 degrees, passengers can interact with the vehicle via gestures or touchpads, tables with tablet surfaces can be extended, and windows are being turned into screens.
The increase in efficiency begins when the foot goes on the pedal: a to-do list is loaded and the driver gets a set of tasks which she or he can finish off during the estimated journey time. So the working day doesn’t begin at the office chair, but as soon as you get into the car. And because we’ve been downgraded to a simple passenger, we gain in time, peace, and ability to concentrate.

More quality time.

We can write, dream up concepts, program code, come up with presentations or campaigns, or take part in video conferences. And when a glance through the car window isn’t inspiring enough, you can choose purely virtual 3D scenery with the right atmosphere to create any desired mood. Training and language courses can be used as well, with the teacher projected in the window or as a hologram. Depending on requirements, vehicles can also form clusters and merge into temporary offices. The car likewise becomes a discreet meeting point for consultations and signing contracts. Relevant information is projected directly via augmented reality into the vehicle.

Microtasking as digital side job in the car.

Working mobile in the car will also become more relevant for crowdworking. Connectivity integrates job offers from sites like Clickworker and Mechanical Turk. These kinds of job agencies split projects into parts and offer these parts as jobs to people all over the world, joining the sections back up once they’re complete. This is called microtasking. The jobs can last anywhere between five seconds and several hours. In an autonomous car, passengers decide based on a specified travel time whether they can accept and complete a micro job while driving from A to B. So you could finish off a job while using a ridesharing service – and even pay off your fare while doing so.

Offices and business premises on four wheels.

And what happens at lunchtime? How about power napping, fitness exercises, or a new haircut? In the future, it will be possible to do all of this in a car. We will probably see mobile hairdressers and makeup artists who drive to their clients or operate a salon on wheels themselves. Trainers, masseurs, and coaches of all kinds as well. Offices and stores will to some extent become superfluous in the age of autonomous cars which can move flexibly on the road. Which would mean the car moving from third to second place.

Authors: Christian Geiss and Oliver Jesgulke