Transit Troubles — again

In the January 27, 2016 issue of the Los Angeles Times, the front page headline was: Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California This reminded me of the growing transit troubles dilemma: despite government spending billions (by now trillions) of dollars on mass transit projects in the United States there’s little to show for it. But first a little history.
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Global warming: the end of the beginning

The recent Paris accords on global warming marked a milestone: the end of the beginning. Finally most nations agreed that global warming is real, is man-made, and that they are responsible for doing something about it.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the pledges made to reduce greenhouse gases go only about half-way to solving the problem. Worse, their pledges are only to try to make things better. That is, fingers crossed behind their respective backs. Still,  they did undertake to provide an annual, transparent assessment of their individual progress toward reducing greenhouse gases. This way the slackers can allegedly suffer the disapprobation of the high achievers.

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Face-to-face: Who needs it?

Who needs face-to-face? One of the primary issues in determining the telework ability of a particular job or person is the extent to which face-to-face interaction is needed. Most jobs can be analyzed in terms of the amount of time face-to-face interaction is required versus the time that it is neither required or can be substituted by some form of technology. In the early days of telework the available technology was simply the telephone; therefore face-to-face requirements (meetings, informal discussions, presentations, and so on) had no substitute. So the time available for teleworking was basically the time when the worker could work alone.

As technology has improved it has reached the point where it can substitute effectively for many forms of communication that formerly required face-to-face interaction. Still, there are cases where face-to-face is required or certainly desirable. Let’s look at a few. Continue reading Face-to-face: Who needs it?

Employee or Contractor

One of the side effects of telework’s growing popularity is this issue: are your teleworkers employees or contractors? Our position from the first has been that all teleworkers should be treated like regular employees; given the same rights and privileges, fringe benefits, health care and so on. Part of our rationale for this was that, since teleworkers tended to contribute more to the ultimate “Bottom Line” than their in-office compatriots, they should be treated at least as well as the latter group. Most employers have followed this precept over the past few decades.

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Stressed commuters get support from Court

Flash

According to an article in the 10 September 2015 BBC News, some commute-stressed commuters who live in the European Union now have support, if indirect, from the European Court of Justice. Specifically, the court ruled that:

Time spent travelling to and from first and last appointments by workers without a fixed office [emphasis mine] should be regarded as working time.

More specifically:

The fact that the workers begin and finish the journeys at their homes stems directly from the decision of their employer to abolish the regional offices and not from the desire of the workers themselves.

Requiring them to bear the burden of their employer’s choice would be contrary to the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers pursued by the directive, which includes the necessity of guaranteeing workers a minimum rest period.

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Telecommuting circa 1985

I recently came across one of the orientation manuals we used in the mid-1980s. Its purpose was to explain telecommuting to prospective telecommuters. It’s interesting to see what, if anything, has changed between telecommuting circa 1985 and today. Here’s an excerpt from The Teleguide for a typical large company. See for yourself how much has changed.

What is Telecommuting?

Telecommuting is the substitution of telecommunications and/or computers for commuting to work. There are two main forms of telecommuting: home telecommuting and satellite center telecommuting. In home telecommuting, a Company employee works at home instead of in the office, possibly with the aid of a personal computer. In satellite center telecommuting, the employee works at an office that is close to his/her home rather than at some more distant location. Telecommunications systems interconnect the home telecommuters, the satellite centers and the “main” offices so that everyone can keep in touch. Continue reading Telecommuting circa 1985

Telework for the disabled

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by George H. W. Bush. Since the ADA emerged in 1990 a great deal of progress has been made in expanding the options for disabled people. Good progress but not enough. Telework for the disabled is an option that needs more recognition.

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How many teleworkers — who knows?

How many teleworkers are there today? Who knows? As I noted in a previous blog it is hard to count teleworkers. One problem is that the definition of teleworker/telecommuter varies from country to country and counter to counter. Full-timers working at home for a distant employer are the easy core. It’s at the edges where the counting gets difficult — and the definitions differ.

Another,  growing problem in the teleworker counting business is the simple fact that contemporary technology has made it really hard to count reliably. An excellent overview of the problem is given in an article in the New York Times by Cliff Zukin of Rutgers University. Titled What’s the Matter With Polling?, the article paints the picture of the rapid decrease in accessibility of your average pollee. The polling business is changing for the worse

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Thoughts on rural broadband

The following announcement showed up in my email recently:

The Broadband Opportunity Council (Council), the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are requesting public comment to inform the deliberations of the Council. Stakeholders have the opportunity to review the Federal Register Notice and submit written comments by e-mail to BOCrfc2015@ntia.doc.gov on or before 5 p.m. Eastern time on June 10, 2015.

Details of the request can be found in the Federal Register. One of the impacts of improved rural telecommunications access is increased opportunities for telework.  Here are some of my thoughts on the topic.

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Training: Why, Who, What, When

“Why do we need training to make telework work well?” is a question we get frequently. Here’s why: Teleworking is not the same as working in the office; it requires establishing communication patterns and modes that are likely to be different from those in the office.

For starters, that face-to-face interaction that is the mainstay of intra-office communication is either absent or flattened in telework situations. Almost the first question a prospective telemanager asks when faced with the prospect is: “How do I know they’re working if I can’t see them?” That is the crux of the problem and the main motivation for training.

Continue reading Training: Why, Who, What, When