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Working From Home Will Soon Be a Legal Right in the Netherlands

Over the last several months, the debate between remote work and a return to the office has heated up. Elon Musk recently gave Tesla employees an ultimatum to either spend 40 hours in the office or start looking elsewhere. Despite this, nearly 90% of workers prefer the flexibility of working from home. In fact, other countries are considering legislation that protects the right to work remotely. Specifically, one of the Netherlands bicameral houses just passed a bill that requires employers to consider such employee requests. And if approved by the Senate, this will be among the first remote work laws in the world.

The Netherlands will not be the first country to consider remote work laws. In September of 2020, Spain passed legislation that protected the rights to work remotely among workers. Portugal similarly has pursued contact restrictions between employers and their remote employees through legislation. However, the recent developments in the Netherlands highlight an evolving difference of opinion between some companies and their employees. As the effects of the pandemic slowly fade, the issue has become increasingly polarized.

“We have the green light for this new law thanks to the support we received from both employees and employers’ unions.” –  Steven van Weyenberg, Member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands

The Netherlands – Ahead of the Curve

While remote work laws might seem extreme to some, the Netherlands have been encouraging working from home for a while. Even before the pandemic, the country’s population was moving in this direction. In 2018, nearly 15% of working individuals enjoyed remote work. In 2019, the Netherlands was also rated as one of the best countries in the world for those working from home. This was not only based on population percentages but also on the quality of Internet infrastructures and costs of living. Thus, it’s not too surprising that the country is among the first to consider remote work laws.

A dude trying to work but he's distracted by a kid
The right to work remotely is being codified around the world–how soon until it becomes law in the US?

Even before the current legislative proposal, the Netherlands has also passed supportive remote work laws. In 2022, the legislature passed a law that awarded businesses money to support employees working from home. The reimbursement program compensated employers who paid their workers for home office equipment and setups. The current bill protecting the right to work remotely is therefore not as big of a step as might be imagined. Such laws might seem unfathomable in the U.S. or U.K., but definitely not among the Dutch.

“In order to remain competitive and improve employee happiness, three-quarters of [Dutch] employers say they’ve updated their flexible working policies—including more options to work remotely.” – Marcel Molenaar, Country Manager Benelux LinkedIn

Start of a Global Trend?

There’s little question that many people now work from home. The pandemic forced changes that initially seemed unreasonable. But quickly, the advantages of remote work became apparent, and employees grew used to the increased flexibilities. Digital nomads emerged. The lack of a commute, freedoms in scheduling, and better work-life balance made it difficult to return to the office. Most workers now either enjoy the right to work remotely or have arranged some type of hybrid work model. But despite these developments, it’s not likely remote work laws will soon become common. In recent months, many employers are pushing back.

(Dig into the world of digital nomads in this Bold story!)

In some countries, a completely different approach is being pursued. In the U.K., there are no legal protections for the right to work remotely. In fact, employers can legally mandate a return in some instances. In the U.S., employers can demand workers to come back to the office or face termination. For individuals who have few other employment options, they have little bargaining power. Interestingly, however, talent supply for many jobs is down in the U.S., which gives workers greater power in negotiating. Though it’s unlikely remote work laws will appear before Congress soon, the push for remote work is still gaining momentum.

Taking an Objective Approach

For some companies, it makes sense that workers return to the office. Certain businesses require such environments of in-person contact to thrive. But the majority do not, and it’s worthwhile for all employers to examine remote work in a more objective manner. For example, requiring workers to be in the office limits your geographic options for recruiting talent. This is even true for hybrid work models where employees come into the office a few days a week. In contrast, remote work opens up talent recruitment opportunities substantially given the remote work migration. In addition, reducing office footprints saves a tremendous amount of money that can be used to reinvest in the business.

Whether employees have the right to work remotely or not depends on many factors. The biggest ones pertain to the type of business and activities being performed. In proposing their right to work laws, the Netherlands acknowledges this. But for companies in other countries, it’s essential to step back and examine the pros and cons of remote work. Not only may working from home improve employee relations, but it might help the company’s bottom line as well. This is why both employers and employees support the remote work laws in the Netherlands. And it’s why they have been moving in this direction well before the pandemic.

 

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Would You Live in a Floating City?

Since the Industrial Age began, ocean waters have risen between 8 and 9 inches around the world. A third of this increase has occurred in the last 25 years. And scientists expect these levels to rise another foot by 2050. If this comes to fruition, coastal areas along with their infrastructure will be highly vulnerable. Bold solutions are therefore needed to address these threats, especially since current environmental efforts appear insufficient. With this in mind, one company has partnered with South Korea and the UN to offer such a solution. Its proposed idea is a floating city concept that creates completely sustainable urban areas.

Oceanix along with UN Habitat and Busan, South Korea recently unveiled its plan for a floating city concept. Planned to be prototyped by 2025, the project will consist of interconnected floating platforms. Each of these platforms, which comprise several acres, will be designed for specific purposes. And in total, the floating city concept will be 100% self-sufficient in terms of waste, water, and energy management. Understanding that the need for sustainable urban areas is pressing, many are intrigued by the proposal. And while it may not be ideal for every city and country, it could well be highly welcomed for coastal communities everywhere.

“Imagine a masterplan that is not made from paving roads or building foundations, but one that channels the flow of energy, water, food, and waste and create this kind of blueprint for a maritime metropolis.” – Bjarke Ingels, founder and architect of Bjarke Ingels Group

A Comprehensive Sustainable Design

The initial prototype of Oceanix’s floating city concept is meant to accommodate roughly 12,000 people. The three floating platforms are connected by bridges, and they comprise about 15.5 acres in total. On the platforms are various modules created with specific functions in mind. Some will serve as living spaces while others for research and work. There won’t be any roads, as bicycling and walking will be the only mode of transportation. And dozens of goods will be available to rent, including clothing and furniture. From a practical perspective, it is designed to function like any other urban environment.

While these measures help create the sustainable urban areas desired, they are just a start. The real genius behind this floating city concept involves its operations concerning water, waste, and energy. For example, only green energy will be utilized, including solar, wind, tidal, and thermal sources. Likewise, all waste will be composted or recycled with city dwellers paying a fee based on waste weights. Also, all water will be collected, treated and recycled to further enhance these sustainable urban areas. Lastly, hydroponic farms will cultivate foods while only plant-based and fish diets will be available. (Dive into why hydroponic farms offer a sustainable feature in this Bold story!)

“We live in a time when we cannot continue building cities the way New York or Nairobi were built. We must build cities knowing that they will be on the front lines of climaterelated risks from rising sea levels to storms. Floating cities can be part of our new arsenal of tools.” – U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed

The Latest Solution for Urban Flood Control

While the floating city concept is perhaps the most impressive design to date for flood management, it is not alone. Several other cities and countries are exploring similar designs in an effort to better manage water. Water management is an important component for future sustainable urban areas. Not only are coastal areas at risk for flooding, but water shortages and water pollution are additional worries. Naturally, all of these concerns are being addressed by the designs proposed for Busan. But for other areas that are not necessarily coastal, alternative options are being considered.

A floating city made of white domes
The floating city concept means never having to worry about running out of dry land.

One of the emerging concepts for flood and water management involve “sponge cities.” These are being trialed in certain areas of China in an effort to mitigate flooding, pollution and scarcity. In essence, they absorb, store, infiltrate, and purify water from rainwater for reuse on a large scale. Others are more primitive in nature. For example, HafenCity in Hamburg, Germany is redesigning infrastructures to mitigate flood damage. Their solution is to create elevated secondary thoroughfares for pedestrians and emergency services during flooding. These aren’t as advanced as the floating city concept, but they demonstrate current interests in designed more sustainable urban areas.

“There’s no global [blueprint]. It’s all about going to places and meeting with people and finding out what’s important. The core of the [floating city concept] is the platform—a city on the water. Everything else on top should be informed with by whatever else is going on in that community.” Daniel Sundlin, architect and partner at Bjarke Ingels Group

A Big First Step Toward Sustainability

The existing design of Oceanix’s floating city concept is both excited and hopeful. Given the acceleration of climate change, any viable solution for sustainable urban areas is worth examination. Certainly, it appears the Busan project is highly detailed in its efforts to achieve 100% sustainability. But that doesn’t mean problems won’t be encountered. For example, it’s not clear how a floating city might affect marine life. Its design may also need to be changed based on topography, urban density, and diverse cultural preferences. These are all important aspects that must be considered as the project advances.

Regardless, the floating city concept is definitely a big step in the right direction. Busan was specifically chosen because it is the largest port city in South Korea with roughly 3.4 million inhabitants. If the initial prototype shows success, Oceanix than plans to expand the region to accommodate 100,000 residents. Thus, Busan will represent an important test-ground for the development of these new sustainable urban areas. In all likelihood, many answers as well as new questions will emerge from these efforts. But there is great hope in the project’s potential for coastal regions throughout the world.

 

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What’s Old Is New Again: The Return of Airships

It was nearly a century ago when the iconic blimp, the Hindenburg, went down in flames. What promised to usher in a new era of lighter than air travel crushed the industry in a horrific tragedy. But that doesn’t mean blimps, or better referred today as semi-rigid airships, perished completely. Goodyear blimps are still around, continuing to provide aerial coverage of a variety of events. And based on the latest news, a company called Light Than Air (LTA) Research hopes to test its first modern airships next year. This time around, the expectations are of course even grander.

Led by Google’s cofounder, Sergey Brin, LTA Research appears ready to move ahead with its Pathfinder 1. Designed to be safer, lighter and environmentally friendly, LTA’s airships hope to provide large cargo services for humanitarian efforts. Since its founding in 2014, the startup has been relatively quiet, but nonetheless, ramping up operations quickly. In addition to its primary headquarters in San Francisco, it also leases space in Akron, Ohio. Interestingly, this second locale just happens to be where Goodyear first developed its own blimps in the 1930s. It would thus seem that LTA hopes to put lighter than air travel back on the map.

“We believe lighter than air technology has the capacity to speed up humanitarian aid by reaching remote locations with little infrastructure, and to lower carbon emissions for air and cargo transportation.” – Alan Weston, CEO of Lighter Than Air Research

Looking Back on Lighter Than Air Travel

The blimps of old that were created in the 1930s were the first lighter than air vessels. Gases, which weighed less than air, served to allow these inflated blimps the ability to float along. This offered significant opportunities not only for reduced use of fuel but also cargo space. In fact, the USS Akron and USS Macon, both designed by Goodyear for the U.S. Navy could carry five planes. For this reason, airships of the 1930s held tremendous promise. Of course, this came to a screeching halt when the Hindenburg caught fire, killing 36 people in the process.

In contrast to the Hindenburg, which used flammable hydrogen gas, other airships utilize helium. This is why Goodyear blimps continue to operate safely and have done so for years. But only recently has a renewed interest in lighter than air travel returned. LTA Research envisions such airships as a way to revolutionize air travel. This is especially important in humanitarian missions where large amounts of cargo and rescue may be needed. These aspects along with a advances in battery technologies encouraged Brin and others to revisit the idea of airships. (Read more about recent breakthroughs in anode battery technology in this Bold story!)

“Airships in general need less power. They gain lift by way of lighter-than-air gas. You don’t burn fuel to stay in the air. They consume less energy. Airships stay aloft for long periods of time and can travel long distances.” – Dan Grossman, Avian historian and Founder of airships.net

Modern Airship Designs

In terms of actual terminology, current lighter than air vessels are not technically blimps. Blimps do not have an internal framework structure. In fact, today’s Goodyear “blimps” do have a framework inside, which is why they’re referred to more accurately as semi-rigid airships. In a similar vein, LTA Research’s airships will also have such a framework. However, this is much more advanced in nature. Kilwell Fibrelab, a New Zealand company, is providing super-strong carbon fiber for both the Pathfinder 1 and Pathfinder 3. In addition to its strength, the framework is also very light, which is certainly advantageous for lighter than air travel.

An airship coming in for a landing
Lighter-than-air travel could be returning as a luxury travel choice.

The propulsion system for LTA’s airships will also not be using fossil fuels either. While helium will be used to keep the structure in the air, battery-powered systems will enable horizontal movements. These will thus be zero emissions aircrafts. They will also contain numerous individualized gas cells that will contain the helium itself. And most impressive will be the size of these airships. The Pathfinder 1, which will be tested in 2023, is 400 feet in length. And its successor, the Pathfinder 3, will be 600 feet and able to carry nearly 100 tons. Though not quite as long as the Hindenburg, it will be the largest existing air vehicle on Earth once completed.

“Helium is not flammable. It is a stable element. It’s inert. [The Pathfinder 1] is incomparably safer than Hindenburg was. But it’s also going to be safer for other reasons, including modern materials and modern engineering technology that were not available during the era of the Hindenburg, Akron, and Macon.” – Dan Grossman

LTA Research’s Rapid Growth

While LTA Research was founded in 2014 with support from Google, it has grown rapidly in those few years. Based in San Francisco, LTA began leasing the Moffitt Airfield from the U.S. Space Agency. At that time, its lease was roughly 131,000 for its use. Today, that figure is nearly $11 million. Though this might reflect some component of inflation, it primarily reflects the company’s accelerated progress. In addition to moving forward with the design of airships and a pending launch, it’s added a great deal of staff. In fact, it is currently recruiting engineers and other positions for its Akron, Ohio, site. Ultimately, LTA hopes to purchase the Akron facility for ongoing developments in lighter than air travel.

The addition of the Akron facility was noteworthy for a few reasons. For one, when constructed in 1929, it was the largest building in the world. At nearly 7 football fields in length, it remains one of the largest aerospace buildings in the world. Of course, it’s historical significance has to be acknowledged as well. It was the site where Goodyear built both the USS Akron and USS Macon. Thus, it’s not too surprising that this facility caught the attention of Brin and others. In their pursuit to modernize airships, why not blend a little of the old with the new? It would therefore seem LTA hopes to provide a little continuity as it strives to redefine lighter than air travel.

 

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