Can’t afford to live near work? Telecommute!

The numbers are exploding: people can’t afford to live near where they work. Near means within half an hour or so from home to workplace (see my recent blog) . Now, in an article by George Avalos in the San Jose Mercury News, the plight is laid out for the Silicon Valley. Titled Housing woes spur Bay Area residents to ponder exodus from costly region, poll says, Avalos writes that the battle between ever-so-slowly-growing supply and bursting demand for homes in the valley clearly affects prices. “In July, the median price of a single-family home in the nine-county Bay Area was $804,000, up 10.1 percent from a year earlier ” Avalos wrote. Mind boggling.

There are two possible solutions to this dilemma: a) suddenly become immensely rich; b) move to your employer’s facilities full time or; c) move to where you can afford the housing. The second option evokes, mostly negative visions of the company town. The third option requires some serious thought.

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Commuting promotes telecommuting

As time marches on the daily commute gets longer according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As an article by Christopher Ingraham in the 16 September 2017 Washington Post points out, the average commute time in the U.S. has grown to 26.6 minutes each way. Among other consequences, this has promoted steady progress in telecommuting.

Let’s go through the numbers. Assume that the average American worker works 49 weeks annually after vacation and holidays are omitted from the total of 52 weeks. At 5 work days per week and two commute trips per work day that’s 490 commute trips annually. At 26.6 minutes per commute trip we find that the average commuter is spending 13,034 minutes, or 217.23 hours annually sitting in traffic. That’s 5.4 40-hours work weeks! More than a month of workdays uncompensated.

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Global Warming, Part 2

In June I posted a piece about global warming. The focus was on the role that methane could play in accelerating the warming process. On 23 August 2017 the New York Times published an article about the disappearance of permafrost in Alaska. The article, by Henry Fountain, begins with this:

The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even here in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages.

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Reverse telecommuting and Urban Centers

Some recent news stories bring up the prospects of reverse telecommuting. Almost 45 years ago I wrote a piece describing the dynamics of central office versus employee residence location. The point was that, as companies become established, the residence locations of their employees tend to form a circular normal distribution — a bell-shaped curve — centered on the headquarters
(HQ) office. I gave some examples of what happens when the HQ pulls up stakes and moves to a new location some distance away, usually because the CEO wanted to both have a short commute and live in the suburbs. The initial impact is that while the CEO and other employees living nearby have a shorter commute, the average employee has a longer commute to the HQ. The result often is turmoil, dropping morale, lowered productivity and attrition. The attrition comes from those employees who can easily find jobs near their existing residences and perceive little penalty in leaving; often those are the most productive employees.

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Global Warming: The rocks and the hard places

The media have frequent stories about one aspect or other regarding global warming. What they often don’t do is discuss the tradeoffs; the rocks and the hard places on the path to a livable and sustainable climate. The problem with all these bits and pieces of information is that, while we are discussing them, the climate is changing — mostly for the worse — while we continue to be locked in unproductive discussion. The climate clock is ticking whether or not we’re paying attention. I’ve written about this before, here and here, but now it’s time to expand on those ideas.

An article by Andreas Goldthau in the 8 June 2017 issue of (paywall) Nature covers many of the main rocks and hard places. Its emphasis is on the role of the G20 nations plus China in approaching the solution. Here’s a summary of it with my own comments.
Continue reading Global Warming: The rocks and the hard places

IBM retreats to 20th century, drops telecommuters

According to the Wall Street Journal of 18 May 2017 [Note: the referenced article has a paywall], IBM has decided to call in all its telecommuters. The option given to the telecommuters is either to come in to an IBM facility every day or look for a job with some other employer. This was a shock to me since I helped IBM get its telecommuting program started in 1984, way back in the 20th century. So IBM has been supporting (and lauding) telework for 33 years. And now they have decided to stop it, to retreat to the pre-1980s. This does not seem to be a wise move. Why are they doing it?

The answer from IBM sounds a lot like Marissa Mayer’s excuse for calling in the telecommuters of Yahoo! Business is bad and it doesn’t seem to be getting better so it’s time call in all the troops in order to ignite a burst of innovation. Get them together every day so that the ensuing interpersonal communication (or friction), like striking a match, will produce light and the company will turn the corner and prosper. The implication, of course, is that business is bad because of telecommuting. Therefore it’s the telecommuters who are the source of the problem. It’s what my friend, Gil Gordon, calls telescapegoating!

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What global warming? Look around!

According to news reports President Trump thinks that global warming is a Chinese propaganda plot and has no basis in fact (or at least in alternative fact). Therefore, Trump concludes, there is no sense  in providing government funding for research on it. Why squander taxpayers’ money on something that doesn’t exist?

There is, of course, the troubling fact that thousand of scientific papers and scientific conferences worldwide have identified global warming with increasing accuracy. There is the troubling fact that some of the long term effects of global warming seem to be happening prematurely. Effects that weren’t supposed to happen for years seem to be occurring already. More intense weather: droughts; floods; windstorms are occurring more often than historical statistics would predict. Why is this?

Continue reading What global warming? Look around!

Pricing the commute

For years we have had a do-it-yourself telework cost-benefit analysis on our website. That analysis focuses mainly on the direct costs and benefits of telecommuting versus the daily commutes between home and work. Now let’s expand that analysis with some thoughts about the other costs of the commute; pricing the commute.

To be comprehensive, pricing the commute requires some analysis of the other factors beside out-of-pocket expenses: those so-called externalities. These additional factors include: the drag; health hazards; physical dangers and psychological effects. An article by Nathan Brooker in the 25 March 2017 Financial Times FTWeekend edition, titled Commuter pain or gain? gives one such analysis although it focuses on mass transit rather than private cars.

Let’s look at some of these factors, focusing on pricing the commute by private car. Continue reading Pricing the commute

What is the optimal amount of telecommuting?

When we first started research on telecommuting in 1973 our focus was on whether telecommuting was practical in the real world, never mind the optimal amount of telecommuting. I insisted that the research involved testing telecommuting in an actual company, one whose bottom line was purely business oriented. The question of the optimal amount of telecommuting/teleworking didn’t come up because we were concerned with whether it was practical at all.

In those days the typical telecommuter was a person who worked using a computer terminal that was connected by wires to a mainframe computer somewhere. The idea of the person doing this from home was simply not practical; telecommunications cost — the cost of connecting that computer terminal to a distant mainframe via telephone connections all day — was simply too high. So in those mid-1970s days we concentrated on people working in what we called satellite offices: typically suburban offices solely owned by the employing company for use by its employees. Only after the arrival of personal computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s was it practical to think about home based telecommuting.

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Telemedicine: Its Future Beckons

Way back in the distant past, the early 1970s, as I was trying to focus my thoughts on telecommuting, telemedicine kept appearing as one of the options. Assessing the future of telemedicine by testing it was one of my research team’s initial set of possibilities. But the complexities of dealing with the medical establishment — and the fact that we had a very limited research budget — led us to focus on more accessible business operations; the insurance company we used as our first test site.

The basic concept for both telework and telemedicine is the same: Where and how is it possible to use information technology to couple expensive/scarce resources with human needs? In the case of telemedicine the resources — physicians and some health care personnel together with their support equipment and facilities — can be both scarce and expensive. Those in need of the sort of care they provide  must often travel great distances to get from home to the facilities, face fees beyond their capacity, or go without. The prospect is daunting!

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