Working from car: Autonomous vehicles and the future of the 9-5
‘Working’ always appears on any list of “Things I’ll do in a driverless car.” But innovation consultant Remington Tonar’s future vision goes way beyond checking emails while in autopilot mode. Read what he has to say in this exclusive interview.
As a partner at Brandsinger, Remington Tonar’s main line of work is as an innovation consultant. He helps companies of all sizes to think in new ways about their business. Often that means evolving their cultures to embrace innovation. “Because if the culture of the companies doesn’t support innovation, they’re ultimately going to fail,” says Remington.
2025AD: How and when did you start thinking about autonomous vehicles and their effect on work as we know it?
Remington Tonar: In my work with clients I’ve started noticing that the conversation around next generation transformative technologies like autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence tends to focus on the technology rather than its potential impact on individuals and social institutions. Ignoring the people in organizations like governments and businesses - is potentially costly and even dangerous. That’s why I’ve made it a point to talk more about these issues
2025AD: Share with us your vision of “working from car”.
Remington Tonar: Firstly, if we get to Level 5 autonomy and we still have cars that look just like they do today then I think we will have missed a huge opportunity and failed ourselves and society! I envision a model whereby purpose built mobile platforms serve as fully functional workspaces. Employees can work at peak productivity and even collaborate, hold meetings and conference calls, all while going from place to place.
2025AD: But surely working during a public transport commute is nothing new. What makes autonomous vehicles different?
Remington Tonar: Productivity. Today’s cars, buses, planes and trains are designed to move people from point A to point B – but they’re antithetical to the idea of productivity: cramped spaces with often sub-optimal or no connectivity, difficult light for screen-reading etc. And you can’t customize or control your own space. Autonomous vehicles on the other hand can be designed as mobile platforms with productivity in mind from the outset.
2025AD: What do you see as the key features for a productive mobile workspace?
Remington Tonar: First and foremost, they can’t be claustrophobic. They’ll need to be open and spacious and let as much natural light in as possible. Getting in and out should also be easy and obviously connectivity is important. I see them as being closer in design to the autonomous public transit pods we can see today. And of course, this is assuming we overcome the motion sickness problem – which I’m confident we can crack.
2025AD: Ok, walk us through an example. In practice, how might autonomous vehicles be integrated into working culture?
Remington Tonar: I know people working for one of the larger energy companies in the US who commute over two hours to get to their office. And it’s often the case that they’re commuting alongside huge numbers of colleagues who live in the same suburban neighborhood. In this case you could imagine the company purchasing a fleet of autonomous buses and outfitting them as a workspace complete with desks, conference rooms etc. - essentially running its own transit network that allows its employees to not only work but collaborate while on the move.
2025AD: This would surely mean some drastic shifts in working culture. What will it mean for working hours and expectations as we know them?
Remington Tonar: Right now, there is no way that employees can make the claim that they can work productively from the train in big cities for example. You can check emails and catchup on certain things, sure, but during peak hours it’s just so busy – believe me, I’m a New Yorker, I know! And if you are driving for an hour, you can’t possibly work at all. But as soon as that time becomes truly productive, then we will see employees and employers alike consider commute time as office hours – which might mean less time spent in the physical office.
2025AD: Speaking of physical offices, what will autonomous vehicle workspaces mean for them?
Remington Tonar: We could see profound changes. I can imagine the office of the future being built around the car as a mobile work platform. So instead of having desks and seats, you have an office building that is essentially a garage – with amenities of course! The parked vehicles would then “fold out” to create a modular office space that you can literally take with you.
2025AD: Might we get to the stage where there won’t be a need for a physical office at all?
Remington Tonar: Well this vision certainly deconstructs the idea of an office as a physical place. Like I described, it doesn’t have to be in one physical space, it can be in any physical space. The idea that the entire office can pick up its work space and move collectively to a different location adds another layer of productivity. Think of a small four-person IT startup who are out in the field all day: it’s the perfect setup. We could even see “shared garages”: the future of co-working space!
2025AD: Could the working from car paradigm coexist alongside a shared, on-demand mobility model?
Remington Tonar: Do you mean will we see Uber offices? It could happen! Perhaps you would select your use case in the app and demand a mobile office! But really, I think any company looking seriously at integrating this concept would buy their own vehicle(s). That way it has full customization.
2025AD: Given the fact that remote working isn’t ubiquitously embraced by companies, is there a danger that this working from car idea will be a non-starter for many?
Remington Tonar: You’re right, the current remote working debate is essentially seen as binary: in that it either promotes productivity or it hinders it – and there are studies to support both sides. I see it as just another tool, neither inherently good or bad. The extent to which it works depends on the existing company culture and management style. For companies that are open and progressive and would support the working from car model, it might even be the case that it could enhance corporate culture.
2025AD: How so?
Remington Tonar: Well say you’re in a sprawling city like Los Angeles. You might have a situation where five people are going to lunch at a new restaurant, 40 minutes away. Today, that’s pretty much three unproductive hours out of the working day. In the working from car paradigm, productivity could be rolled into this. I’m not saying there should never be downtime – again, it’s about making the model work for a company’s specific situation.
2025AD: In your opinion, what can companies do today to already adapt to this potential future working culture?
Remington Tonar: As we start to approach level 5 autonomy, I think employers need to get ahead of the trend and think about how this working culture might look within their organization – and even run some research on the subject. It’s an opportunity to unleash productivity ex nihilo but we need to be sure that employees and employers alike are getting added value.
ABOUT OUR EXPERT:
Remington Tonar is a Partner at Brandsinger, a New York City-based brand innovation and corporate culture consultancy whose clients range from global Fortune 500s to unicorn-bound startups in industries such as industrials, automotive, financial services, healthcare and aerospace. He is also the Cofounder of the infrastructure media organization StateOf and a regular contributor on Forbes.com, where he writes on the future of infrastructure and transportation.