That vaunted fount of innovation, the Silicon Valley, may be showing signs of aging. It is beginning to resemble the history of industrial development before the information age. Some of the symptoms are: growing larger companies by gobbling up smaller ones; attempting to control markets by stifling startups (or by engulfing them as in the prior case); and developing borg-like headquarters facilities aimed at exerting almost total control over the lives of their employees. From the Company store to the company town. From Silicon Valley to Assimilation Valley.
The World View page in the 19 June 2014 Nature is titled: “Uprooting researchers can drive them out of science.” A key statement in the article by Russell Garwood of the University of Manchester, UK, is:
If they wish, researchers can now communicate more often, and just as easily, with colleagues in a different time zone than with those in the next office.
That’s the problem. The management techniques of science were developed in the time when scientists necessarily worked together in the same laboratory. Although the technology has changed, apparently the management attitudes have not.
Back in my days as a rocket scientist I spent most of my time developing ways for the United States and its allies to keep track of the military activities of the Soviet Union. Although I haven’t been in the outer space business since the early 1970s I was still shocked by some recent events resulting from, or revealed by, the goings-on in the Ukraine. It seems that core elements of the American space program are not under American control.
Those who wish to find an unimpeachable estimate of the telecommuters in the US these days have a problem. For example, my own forecast of the number of US teleworkers (mostly telecommuters) in the US at the end of 2014 says that they will constitute 30% of the workforce (40+ million teleworkers) and account for reducing vehicle travel by 140 billion miles over what would happen without telecommuting. On the other hand, the National Study of Employers run by the Family and Work Institute claims that “today more employers are providing occasional telecommuting (67%) for at least some employees than in 2008 (50%).” On the third hand, Top Management Degrees claims that there will be 3.9 million teleworkers in the US by 2016 — an order of magnitude less than my forecast for 2014.
So which, if any, of these estimates is right? The answer is: it depends.
There is a major politico-economic tug of war going on these days. It is between those who want the internet to work as it has been for the last few decades and those who want to have the internet provide preferential treatment to certain customers. This may sound like an abstruse issue but it’s not. In particular it may decrease your ability to telework in the future.
What are the relationships between telework and organizational culture? Here is the Wikipedia definition of organizational culture:
the behavior of humans who are part of an organization and the meanings that the people attach to their actions. Culture includes the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders.
One of the persistent questions I get about the impacts of telework is its effect on organizational culture. The fear is frequently expressed by the management of organizations considering adopting teleworking that somehow the teleworkers will become a sort of alien presence in their organizations. They fear that the teleworkers will be unable to adapt to the organizational culture and therefore will turn out to be a drag rather than an improvement to the organization’s operations and success. Continue reading
As the “unseasonal” cold snaps and blizzards continue in parts of the US—and as other parts experience unseasonal warmth—the evidence keeps coming in that global warming is real. And largely a result of our burning fossil fuels.
To celebrate this clear trend the European Union, once a leader in the struggle to reduce greenhouse emissions, is having second thoughts. It seems that the fight against global warming is bad for business; Europe may be losing its competitiveness, according to the Financial Times. Continue reading
The favorite retort by many of us in the midwest or eastern US in the past few weeks has been: “What global warming? I’m surrounded by icicles!” Others of us, such as in the southwest (and much of Russia), have been sweltering in temperatures dozens of degrees above normal. The key to understanding all of this is to remember that weather is not climate. The polar vortex is not all there is, even when it’s errant. For some explanation see this from the Weather Channel.
Yet all this recent weird weather does allow us to crow: “Telecommuters do it at home! They don’t need to go out in all that snow, ice and slush. When disaster strikes we can deal with it (unless the power goes out too).”
There are two types of teleworkers: those who work primarily for a single employer (company, government, NGO, etc.) and those who are largely self employed. For those current or potential teleworkers who are considering a move to the ranks of the self employed the healthcare problem can be a serious barrier to the move. It can be an anxiety-producing experience to think about leaving an employer who provides a good health plan, particularly if you have a family to worry about. Raise your hand if you’re a would-be independent teleworker who’s hesitating because of healthcare concerns.
Relax. Obamacare, the silver bullet, is here — sort of. You now can be in the position where the healthcare issue is no longer an impediment to your entrepreneurial spirit. You can work from, or near, home, regain control of your life, watch your family grow up, reduce your stress levels and maybe even live longer.
If you can get signed up for Obamacare (also known as the Affordable Care Act or ACA).
As we have seen in the news lately there seems to be a fad in Silicon Valley based on the idea, particularly for companies that are currently in trouble, that togetherness is an absolute requirement for rescuing the company from a fate worse than death. That is, according to this theory, productivity, innovation and creativity only happen in groups of people constantly engaged in face-to-face communication. So if the company can only get all of its people collocated as much as possible great things will automatically happen.
I have mentioned in previous blogs that I don’t believe this theory, based both on my personal experience and survey evidence we have collected over the years. I think that these companies might better spend their time improving their management capabilities rather than herding all their employees into some mental gymnasium. Let me explain this with my own assumptions. Continue reading