The Car is the new Cubicle

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The next time you look out the windshield and look at a sea of cars stuck in traffic, don’t get frustrated. Think of it more as a world of productive people in their workplaces. Yes, we have moved way past the car as the bathroom, a place for brushing teeth, putting on makeup and unmentionable nasal hygiene. The car is the new cubicle. The car is the new workplace.
Don’t believe me? Look out your window and see how many are talking on their cell phone, thumb dancing on their blackberry or making notes on some gizmo attached to the dashboard.
We are spending a lot more time in our cars commuting and just plain driving and we know we need to use that time in ways other than listening to AM radio shock jocks screaming at their callers. As a venture capitalist I visit with entrepreneurs and spend too much time in my car. I am part of the mobility and productivity crowd. We live further from work than ever, the traffic is horrendous and there are only so many times you can listen to those Credence Clearwater old hits so we have the choice –work longer when we get there or use the time productively. We are using the time. This is a good trend. We may not be helping the environment while we sit in the car but it is a step toward cracking that work/life balance conundrum.
Working from home is a great idea on paper; but to many it is a place full of distractions like spouses, children, dogs and soap operas to mention a few. The effective home worker requires discipline, focus and a fast internet connection; factors that don’t always work in conjunction.
A lot of organizations don’t even want you to come in to the office anymore. Big consulting firms like Accenture only have places to sit for a small percentage of their people. In an office of 5000 people, they may only have 300 workspaces. If they all showed up on any given day, it would be chaos. We’ve moved on from cube land as far as the eye can see. We are literally and virtually virtual.
If you work in sales, consulting or in a start-up, like many entrepreneurs I meet, you may not even have any formal office or space. That vehicular vocation box is it, your international headquarters. You have to learn to use the car for calls, meetings, and conference centers.
The automakers all know what is happening. There are 19 million new cars sold in
North America annually and the car makers are filling them with the electronics and connections that can transform our cars into our mobile cubicles, our traveling workplaces, our remote productivity center, our dream or nightmare. You are probably already in the process of making the conversion from auto to mobile work module (MWM) and don’t know it.
Here are a few symptoms:
Are your car windows covered with yellow stickies full of notes and phone numbers?
Is your car console more equipped than your desk and do you make sure it is all set for calls and notes before you turn the ignition?
Is the cup holder and the cigarette lighter the two most prized features of your car?
Is the area behind the passenger seat full of empty Starbucks cups, Mapquest printouts and old PowerPoint presentations?
Do you schedule conference calls for when you know you will be in the car?
Is your radio tuned in to classical or jazz so that you have background music for work instead of classic rock?
Is your car buying or rental decisions based not on the features of the car but on what will be a quiet place to work?
Do you check your blackberry at every red light?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you are one of us, those who look at time spent in the car on the way to work as, well, WORK. Of course this raises a whole set of cosmic questions too complex to imagine like,
“If I am in the service industry like a lawyer or a consultant, should I bill for my time in the car?”
“Do I get overtime pay for working in my car?”
“Can I show up later or leave earlier, since I am working in my car?”
“Can I have meetings in my car?” or,
“Should we hold the annual holiday party in my SUV?”
While we wait for the workplace experts to render opinions about these difficult questions, here are a few tips to make that time in your mobile work unit (MWU) most productive and enjoyable.
Working in the car is not a license to drive without paying attention. Anyone who works in the car has had some brush with bad situations while talking about net income or headcount. You know who you are. Never, under any circumstance let mobile productivity get in the way of good driving.
Stay out of the fast lane while working in your car. You may make bad decisions on several fronts.
Eating in your car while working in your car is a really bad combination – a broken burrito in your lap, poor work decisions and danger.
The GPS is your friend. It allows you to work without paying attention to directions. The chances of getting you to your designated location are 50/50 but at least some work was done.
Everyone seems to be talking to themselves in cars because of the hands-free laws, you can too. In fact, sing your heart out with no embarrassment, no one will know.
Know where cell phone dead areas are and use them to your advantage.
The mute button is the most important feature on your cell phone while in the car.
Just like your cubicle, the car can become your workplace closet with a change of shirts, ties for when you drip lunch on them while eating and driving.
Buy into Fastrack or any other transponder that will allow you to cruise through the tolls. It is impossible to fish for quarters while on a conference call.
Automatic transmissions. Repeat, automatic transmissions.
We know that over 40% of all SUV’s have media centers built in. As a venture capital firm we are seeing deals that include some exciting ideas for cars, including: Built-in WiFi and networking systems; car2carcommunications; streaming video in cars and every bell and whistle you can imagine. Pretty soon we won’t need an office or a house, everything will be in the car.
There are 210 million vehicles on the road in the US. I bet that 80% of those cars are mobile work centers. Let’s be productive and Safe please.

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