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.

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Commuting costs

Time for a review of Business Economics 101. Focus on commuting costs. The problem with this cost review is that it all depends on who is counting and what is being counted. Commuting, that daily to and fro between home and workplace, usually is viewed entirely differently by commuters and their employers. Commuters may look at commuting as a cost of transportation. Employers, mostly, consider commuting costs as what economists call externalities: something that may or may not exist but is of no concern to them unless it disturbs the normal work routine.

The view of both of these groups is way too limited. Commuting imposes costs on all parties involved.

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Telework and Disasters 2015

The winter of 2014-2015 presented a new series of natural disasters that served to demonstrate the power of telework. The eastern half of the United States suffered record-breaking blizzards and cold waves while the west coast continued its millennium drought. What an opportunity for teleworkers — at least in the east.

In case your organization has yet to adopt teleworking for disaster preparedness it’s way past time to get the attention of your CEO. Even if you’re not in one of the weather-stricken areas. Start with the fundamentals: Continue reading Telework and Disasters 2015

It’s the management, stupid — again

Once again we find some commentary in the press about the questionable management techniques in some large corporations. This time the commentary is about Yahoo! — again. Specifically, the New York Times Magazine had an extensive article by Nicholas Carlson titled “What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs” in its 21 December 2014 issue.

Although the Times article covers a number of management mistakes made by the highly paid ($117 million over 5 years) Mayer, I was particularly struck by a section about Mayer’s management style:
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Is telecommuting facing a new oil crisis?

Over the past few months the global energy situation has made some significant shifts. One of the potentially most far reaching of these is the drop in oil prices. Last Thursday, after Opec decided to continue pumping its oil at the same rate as it had been doing, oil prices hit a four-year low of just over $71 per barrel. The reason is that the availability of oil exceeds the demand for it; Economics 101. America’s greatly increased oil production, largely from shale, is clearly distorting the market by adding to that surplus availability. Our previous forecasts of hitting the absolute peak of oil production have to be modified.

For some stakeholders in energy this situation is an oil bonanza; for others it is an oil crisis. For commuters worldwide the lower price at the gas pump is a gift, an incentive to buy a new gas guzzler rather than a hybrid or an electric car, to increase the rate of global warming. For those of us trying to persuade people to telecommute this situation feels like a new oil crisis. High oil prices supposedly help encourage individuals to  telecommute. Will low oil prices act to discourage telecommuting? Here is some history.

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The focus factor vs. the office

What is telework’s central secret? Its ability to enhance the  level of teleworkers’ focus on their work. This both increases worker productivity and enhances their job satisfaction. Why? Because many, if not most, contemporary office environments are definitely not conducive to the level of focus required for work to be done efficiently and effectively. They suffer from low focus factors.

Here’s an example. Suppose you arrive at your downtown office after an “exciting” commute to work. You grab your first coffee, sit at your desk, try to relax for a few minutes then start to focus on today’s first task. Just as you’re getting into it one of your office mates wanders by and starts talking about last night’s ball game. You try to look absorbed but it doesn’t work to fend off your colleague. After a few more minutes of this she wanders off and you try to get back to your mindset before the interruption began. Cogitatio interrupto.

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A no-net-cost global warming fight?

The news is trickling in: it’s possible to fight global warming without wrecking the economy; the savings might even outweigh the expenses.  A no-net-cost global warming fight is possible if we all get to work at it. There are costs, of course, but the evidence is growing that the benefits of decreasing global warming may outweigh them. It’s possible that the net costs may be zero to negative, making the global warming fight free or even a winner.

Here’s some of the evidence.  The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has just released a report (The New Climate Economy) giving the big picture. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has written about that report and another from the International Monetary Fund with supporting material. A quick glance shows that the task of quickly reducing global warming is formidable — but doable. The doing part of it is what is crucial.

As I have written in the past, telework/telecommuting is one of the weapons to fight global warming. Continue reading A no-net-cost global warming fight?

It’s the Management, stupid!

Every now and then an article appears in a media outlet decrying teleworking because of the alleged propensity of teleworkers to goof off instead of doing actual work. For example, the Washington Post recently published an article about the claimed gallivanting of Patent and Trademark Office teleworkers. The article was based on a report by the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General that several PTO employees were collecting for teleworking time when they weren’t really working. Quickly that intrepid California Congressman Darryl Issa demanded an investigation of the supposed malfeasance.

Next came an article in Nextgov, titled Patent Office Telework Scandal Not Really About Telework, claiming that it was all a case of mistaken attribution. Specifically:

Revelations of unprofessional behavior within the Patent and Trademark Office’s award-winning work-from-home program have been described as “telework abuses” by investigators and lawmakers — despite a lack of details specifically linking the problems to telework, mobile work advocates say.

They were abuses, sure. Fundamentally telework-related? Not so much, they say.

Surprise, surprise! It’s the Management, stupid, not the telework that’s the problem!

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Assimilation Valley: signs of aging?

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.

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Young scientists need telework, not travel

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.

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