For 18 years and counting, I have lived in an area long known for having the nation’s worst traffic congestion not only during rush hours, but also off-peak times. As an independent contractor, I have been able to dodge this asphalt madness with a so-called carpet commute from my bedroom to a living room office.
Los Angeles is driven by a car culture, with nearly 4 million estimated residents in the second-largest U.S. city scrambling for limited space on freeways so big that their numbers are actually preceded by the word “the” to describe them in the vernacular. The county’s population is more than double that number, while the larger metropolitan region more than triples the body count. It’s not surprising given that L.A. is the entertainment capital of the world and ground zero for California dreaming.
What made me appreciate an ability to work from home more than usual was a recent article I wrote about telecommuting. However, it also made me lament a troubling trend that has befallen legions of managers and supervisors across Corporate America.
A survey of executive recruiters, employers and job candidates cautioned that ordering remote workers back into corporate offices could alienate top talent in the executive, managerial and professional ranks. What’s more, it is happening at a time of tightening skilled labor markets.
One of my sources, a seasoned industry observer, called out AT&T, Yahoo!, Hewlett Packard and IBM’s marketing division as chief culprits. By ending work-from-home arrangements, he noted how they stood to lose millions of dollars a year they previously saved on consolidating office space and worsen traffic congestion in their respective cities.
It’s a real head-scratcher for me to think that such a counter-intuitive directive could be repeated by several respected blue-chip companies – and in the process, eviscerate years of operational efficiency, corporate goodwill, high morale and employee loyalty. My impression of this cultural change based on the interviews I conducted is that it stems from self-imposed pressure that has turned telecommuting into a convenient scapegoat for missing quarterly earnings or losing market share.
But the fact is we all operate in a virtual world wherein the line of demarcation between work and life is barely recognizable and all office workers really need is a way to get online. If texts or emails aren’t enough to complete a certain task, then there’s always conferencing calling or video-chatting services. I even remember seeing a movie featuring holograms beamed up for a corporate boardroom meeting, which now seems more like a realistic future than science fiction.
It no longer makes sense to tether people to a cubicle or office in this changing business environment, especially since U.S. workers are infamous for not using all of their vacation time and burning the midnight oil. The number of working Americans who griped about working more than 40 hours a week spiked to 26% last year from just 6% in 1974, according to government data cited in a report by The Wall Street Journal.
My view of the situation, of course, isn’t surprising. I have a dog in this fight as someone who has benefited from telecommuting for nearly half my 34-year career. But if we truly want to work faster and smarter, or at least happier and healthier, then why not let flexible work schedules offered as a valued employee benefit lead the way? It’s better than caving into a misguided notion that employees or managers must be able to literally brush up against one another at all, or most, times during the work day.
While running errands the other day, one of my favorite local afternoon talk radio shows noted that Hollywood is facing its worst box-office run in 25 years and then opened up the phone lines to ask listeners whether or not they still go to the movies.
Most of the callers griped about overpriced tickets, texting moviegoers and subpar material – noting that it’s better to simply rent a DVD or watch something on demand in the comfort of their own home. Others are too busy playing video games, keeping up with friends and family on social media or other hobbies.
All of these developments were starting to take hold in the early 2000s when I closely covered Hollywood for various trade publications. Among the most worried were theater chain owners, known in Tinsel Town as “exhibitors.”
Fast forward to 2017, which industry insiders consider another golden age for television, and you’d be hard pressed to find really good quality cinema. Most of the fare these days is formulaic and uninspiring, dominated by so-called franchise pictures and tired sequels, car chases, mind-numbing violence and eye-popping visual effects. It’s not my idea of a fun night out, and apparently most Americans agree.
But as an avid moviegoer, I simply look for alternatives and frequently choose an art house theater a block and a half from my home that features the best independent and foreign films money can buy.
Rarely do I come across a blockbuster that speaks to me on a cerebral or emotional level, and when I’m truly lucky, I get a little of both. One such film (don’t laugh) is “Cars 3.” Yes, an animated film aimed primarily at children, but also one that can appeal to grownups. This release proves once again that Disney Pixar hands down has the best track record of any movie studio in Hollywood history when it comes to quality cinema. If only the other major studios would tear a page from their impressive playbook, then maybe they, too, would be firing on all cylinders – literally and figuratively.
The reason is simple: a terrific story at the core that’s perfectly told, has wonderful pacing, a compelling subplot, wonderful character development and killer themes around which anyone at any age can wrap their hearts and minds. “Cars 3” is a thoughtful film, and I think the best of all three in this winning franchise.
What I like about this film is all the wonderful lessons it teaches the little ones, though I still haven’t been able to convince my own 6 and 8 year olds to see it (they’ve outgrown this particular franchise!). They also translate so well to my principle topic of interest for nearly 30 years, which is the workplace.
In the end, it’s a film about following your occupational dreams (i.e., moving from “trainer” to race car driver), knowing when it’s time to do something else (i.e., retiring from racing to mentor a rising star), honoring the past (i.e., recognizing the contributions of trailblazers) and being fully in charge of your own destiny (i.e., not allowing others to force your fate). Ironically, critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes give it only a satisfactory rating, which I suppose just goes to show how subjective it is to measure the quality of movie content.
In my view, good stories are the missing ingredient in so many movies and have been for a long while – at least since the last truly golden age of cinema in the 1970s. If you offer a product or service that’s second to none in any business, then you’ll acquire customers.
That’s why TV is clobbering movies. There’s so much more creativity and choice on the small screen. And whereas movie stars used to look down upon their peers who did TV shows, they’re all drawn to that medium now for a number of reasons. One is they’re following the money – and lots of it. With Netflix and Amazon.com getting into the act, lucrative deals abound for top talent. A TV show’s schedule is also more 9-5 than on movie sets, so it’s appealing to both cast and crew members who’d rather live a more normal life. But that’s also where the entertainment industry’s mojo has been now for a while and probably will stay.
What Hollywood needs is more movie studios like Disney Pixar whose primary focus is on great storytelling. To paraphrase that famous line from “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.” Movie studio execs, along with theater chain owners, need to heed that call, or they’ll continue to lose the huge audiences they’ve been accustomed to seeing year after year.