How autonomous driving is revolutionizing the way we work

Autonomous vehicles turn the company car into a real company car, where travel time becomes working time. Who will then need a representative office in the future?

Changes in the world of work

At around 1900, there were only two or three office workers for every hundred industrial workers. Today, two thirds of employees have office jobs. What is more, digitization will continue to make fundamental changes in the basic way we organize and carry out our work, with a growing nomadic workforce engaged on projects, not tied to any particular location, and no longer with fixed hours. Instead of working at the company’s smart branch office, nearly all of them will be found solely with customers, in cafés or in coworking spaces, on trains or in airport lounges. Tablets and smartphones enable us to quickly turn even our holiday destination on a remote island into a workplace. This means that, almost unnoticed, work and leisure time will become increasingly merged, leaving many office buildings as background scenery hiding the fact that we long ago switched to mobile offices. Even the conventional company car is feeling the effect of time. In many places it is seen as symbolizing the owner’s earning potential. But it is also a productive location?

 
A familiar urban scene: cafés mutate into temporary offices. Picture: Unsplash

Company car: Not really a place to work

It is true that today, telephone conferences can already be held using hands-free equipment, e-mails can be read aloud and dictated, and can be accessed from vehicles through apps and language assistants – but that is not completely liberating. The first manufacturers such as BMW and VW are already networking drivers with services from the provider Microsoft. The portfolio of services should give drivers intelligent support for office tasks and thus make smartphones superfluous. The services know every entry in the user’s business diary, automatically dial in to join the next telephone conference, and feed the GPS with data for the location of the next meeting – like a digital secretary. Yet alongside the communication tasks, another huge untouched area persists. It is still not possible to perform high-quality work in the car.

Microsoft Office for vehicles

But light is showing at the end of the tunnel, because autonomous vehicles may well become our most important spaces after offices and homes. Fascinating interior concepts such as those from Panasonic, Brose or Audi with its AI:CON open up a productive new window of opportunity. The seats can be rotated and reset, and monitors allow the passengers to interact with the vehicle by means of gestures and touchpads, while tables with tablet interfaces can be pulled out and the windows converted into screens. The efficiency gains begin when the vehicle pulls away: a to-do list is activated and indicates tasks for the driver, which he or she can complete during the forecast traveling time. So the working day does not start when you reach your office chair, but as soon as you get into your car. And as we in effect become just passengers, we benefit from extra time, peace and quiet, and greater concentration.

The interior of the Audi AI:CON: a pleasant place, not only for working. Picture: Audi AG

Making work more flexible

We can author texts and plans, write programs, design presentations and campaigns, or take part in video conferences. And if the view from the window is not sufficiently inspiring, we can select a purely virtual three-dimensional scene with an atmosphere to suit the desired mood. Furthermore, we can do a unit of training or a language course with the teacher projected in the windowpane or as a hologram. Depending on what is needed, in the future vehicles can also temporarily be joined up to form a working space. Equally, the car can become a discrete meeting place for holding consultations and signing contracts. The relevant information will be projected directly into the vehicle via augmented reality.

Mobile working in the car will also become more important for crowdworking. Projects will be split up into small packets to be carried out by people all round the world. This is called microtasking. Such tasks may take anything from five seconds to several hours to perform. In autonomous cars the passengers may decide, depending on the traveling time available, whether they can accept a microjob and complete it during the journey from A to B. For example, someone using a carsharing or ridesharing service could do enough work to pay for the journey.

Unproductive or boring journeys can be converted into agreeable minutes or hours on the road.

And what happens during the lunch break? How about power napping? Or fitness exercises, or a haircut? All this will be possible in the cars of the future, as shown by the impressive Volvo 360c concept car. We will probably see mobile hairdressers and beauticians, who meet their customers in the vehicle or run their own salons on wheels. Trainers, masseurs and coaches of all kinds will do the same. Autonomous driving will make offices or business premises superfluous to a degree, because they can be flexibly shifted to the roads.

 
Just switch to sleep mode until the next appointment. Picture: Volvo