The genie’s out of the bottle: Our workforce is increasingly mobile and flexible. Thanks to mobility and the cloud, it’s easier than ever to work when, where, and however we please. The future of remote work is being shaped day by day, as the needs of mobile workers evolve to match today’s workflows and tech advancements.
Entrepreneurs, like Elon Musk, imagine a future where society isn’t bound by the limitations of our current infrastructure—and they’re set on making it happen. Here’s how the Hyperloop and other ambitious projects around the world are offering a glimpse of what that future of remote work might look like.
Dream big—here comes the Hyperloop
As the meme goes, sometimes cool technology really is just a series of tubes.
That’s the Hyperloop in a nutshell: a futuristic, high-speed transportation system designed to whisk passengers and cargo from one city to another through a giant series of low-pressure vacuum tubes. Passenger pods would whiz by at near-supersonic speeds, traveling from New York to Washington, D.C. in just 29 minutes. New Yorkers might find themselves in the nation’s capital faster than it takes to get from one part of the city to another. It’s an audacious, thrilling idea that could revolutionize how we work and conduct business.
The Hyperloop does have its haters. As WIRED reports, many observers think it’s a naive foray into public transportation, which is legendary for regulatory red tape and heart attack-inducing costs. Even the first phase of New York’s 2nd Avenue subway line construction—which involved developing two miles of track under Manhattan—cost a cool $4.45 billion. Compare this figure with Elon Musk’s early claim that it will cost only $6 billion to build a Hyperloop between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and you’ll understand why there are skeptics out there.
Musk recently announced he’s been given “verbal government approval” to proceed with his project to connect cities on the East Coast. New Yorkers—who are done dealing with a crumbling subway system suffering from decades of inadequate investment—implored Musk to fix the subway first.
Given the obvious decline of American infrastructure, it might seem like Musk is putting the cart before the horse with his bold vision of “revolutionizing terrestrial transportation,” as he put it. But maybe a moon shot on Earth is exactly what we need to succeed on both fronts. Musk clearly thinks so: He just announced another project to provide city-to-city rocket travel across the globe. Whatever the solution, we need to set a daring goal to make meaningful progress. When it comes to the future of remote work, the Hyperloop could be a tremendously positive development.
Go, Speed Racer: bullet trains in China, India, and Japan
While we’re debating whether a Hyperloop is even possible in the United States, countries like China, India, and Japan are off to the races. According to Curbed, China just launched the fastest fleet of bullet trains in the world. Dubbed Fuxing, or “Regeneration,” they reach a maximum speed of 248 miles per hour, linking Beijing and Shanghai in four and a half hours. Meanwhile, India teamed up with Japan to develop its first ever bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. This high-speed rail line, expected to open for service in five years, will slash the travel time between the cities from eight hours to three.
Japan is home to the original bullet train, Shinkansen, which means “new trunk line” in Japanese. The Guardian explains it was launched just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a dramatic symbol of the country’s resilient post-WWII recovery and breathtaking rise to economic superpower status. Japan recognized then, as Elon Musk does today, that pioneering a bold new transportation project is about more than making people’s lives efficient—it’s about committing to a hopeful, optimistic future in which anything is possible. More than 50 years later, the island nation is still extending its high-speed rail network and reaping the economic benefits.
High-speed travel to the future of remote work
How will the Hyperloop help professionals who’re already living the pajama life while working from home? For one thing, the physical distance between a traditional office and a home office could become much larger than it is today, allowing intrepid workers to work and live in their cities of choice while having convenient access to another when needed. Professionals could hop on the Hyperloop to visit their colleagues for an occasional in-person meeting or team retreat as easily as city-dwellers take the subway from one end of their metropolis to the other.
With real estate prices skyrocketing, high-speed travel could make it easier for people to accept jobs in metropolitan areas without necessarily having to live there. This is exactly what happened after the Shinkansen arrived in Japan, turning vast parts of the country into bedroom communities for salarymen working in Tokyo. Entrepreneurs and businesspeople would find it much easier to keep up with their clients and business partners based in other cities, delivering in-person service more conveniently and perhaps more often than they currently can. The supply chain could massively benefit from breakthroughs in transportation, just as it could from other tech innovations, like 3D printing and blended reality, making business hum more smoothly behind the scenes.
Flexible work arrangements are becoming more commonplace—not less. As people flock to urban areas, it’s innovations like these that will make our collective achievements possible in the future. Whether it’s a Hyperloop or another form of transportation we haven’t yet imagined, the time to begin envisioning tomorrow’s society is now.