Coffee from ice cream vans, and other remote working perks

17.13, Tuesday 8 Sep 2020

Ok, so I wasn’t expecting this tweet to get (checks numbers) 865 likes and 93 retweets:

Honestly, screw commuting and screw Pret. I love working from home

But why not have a coffee truck that drives around the suburbs like an ice cream van? I’m sure we could come up with a “flat white” jingle for it to play.

The context is that we’re all being told to get back to the office, and that it’s selfish to do otherwise because coffee shops, etc, in cities are suffering. See, in Grazia: When Did ‘Save The NHS’, Get Overtaken By ‘Save Pret’?

But going back to exactly what we were doing before seems like a pretty unimaginative way to save the economy. It turns out that many people love working remotely, and we’re learning how to be good at it.

Perhaps, rather than struggling to preserve old businesses, we can let them evolve and build new ones too?

By which I mean:

We’re used to office perks and the benefits of working in a business neighbourhood: free snacks (if you’re lucky), a comfy chair, good lunch spots nearby… what future working-from-home perks can we invent, if we’re in this for the long term?

Like, is there remote work facilities management that can come set up my desk and give me a sound baffle/backdrop for my video calls? (Has Ikea launched a Zoom kit yet?) If I were a manager, could I expense desk beers on Fridays for my team, and is there a company that can sort that out? Is there a startup which will organise virtual movie nights, or a surprise snack box in the post, or streaming event once every couple of weeks? Could my local train station get itself a suburban WeWork for the times I actually need a meeting room?

It would be unrealistic for even a sizeable firm to run all these perks itself. But if they were all services that were contracted out? That’s our new economy right there.

Then there’s good coffee and the social life. It can feel pretty distant sometimes at home. But while it’s nice to have face-to-face banter, does that really need to be with co-workers? I’d just as soon have my water-cooler moments with the people who live on my street.

All of that was going round in my head.

I also have a refreshed love of my neighbourhood.

We couldn’t get online grocery delivery slots at the beginning of lockdown, and our local shops really stepped up. I’ll never forget that. One nearby cafe flipped its model into selling flour and dried goods, the interior becoming an ad hoc storeroom.

That experience sparked me to write about local e-commerce back in May. In short: what if I could order and get same-day deliveries from the local businesses that I want to support, as an antidote to the usual faceless e-commerce giants?

So an ice cream van that pulls up, jingling out the MIDI version of Josh Wink’s Higher State of Consciousness at 11am, everyone on the street downing tools and heading out for a caffeine hit and to catch up with friends?

I’m maaaybe 50% kidding.

But the underlying provocation stands: what if we aimed to make remote working as great an experience as a fancy office, and what if we did it in a way that boosted both human contact and our local neighbourhoods, and what new businesses can we imagine that would enable this?

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