Tag Archives: creativity

Location independence 2.0

Telework/telecommuting has always been based on the concept of location independence: the idea that some jobs/tasks are independent of where they are performed. Our mantra has been to move the work to the worker instead of moving the worker to work.

Some history

The telecommuting portion of telework concentrates on local situations; usually urban-oriented, replacing some or all of the daily commute between home and workplace. In fact, this was the brainstorm I had one day around 1970 while stuck in near-zero miles per hour traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. To make it worse an overhead traffic control sign urged: “Maintain Your Speed”.  Inner thoughts: “My job generally involves thinking, computing, writing and otherwise doing solo stuff. Why can’t I just do it at home? Why am I wasting hours sitting here inhaling carbon monoxide and stressing?”

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High time to put on the brakes

Despite all our sage advice the world, at least the United States, seems intent on accelerating our race to the climate cliff. It’s well past time to put on the brakes. For example, energy and climate notes that:

In the 1990s, the transportation sector saw the fastest growth in carbon dioxide emissions of any major sector of the U.S. economy. And the transportation sector is projected to generate nearly half of the 40% rise in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions forecast for 2025.3

Congratulations all you movers. Transportation finally is producing more greenhouse gases than coal-fired power plants. As my mother used to say to me when I was a sprout: Stop moving around so much!

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Productivity, effectiveness or . . .?

One of the prime attractions of telework, at least from the employer’s point of view, is the increased productivity of teleworkers compared to their office-bound colleagues. I have issues with that description of the output of teleworkers or other information workers. I prefer to use “effectiveness” rather than productivity as a better term for telework’s impact. Here’s why.

Productivity

First, productivity is so twentieth or even eighteenth century. For the last century or two productivity has been defined as the result of effective effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.
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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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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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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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Productivity, innovation, creativity and telecommuting

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 Productivity, innovation, creativity and telecommuting