Tag Archives: face–to-face interaction needs

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 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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Telecommuting in the automated driving age

There has been lots of news recently about automated driving. Teslas on autopilot, driverless (sort of) Ubers, all the main auto manufacturers developing self-driving cars. How is all this driverless driving likely to affect telecommuting? After all, telecommuting was invented as a way to reduce time- and energy-wasting commuting. What if the commuters of the (near) future can sit back and telecommute en route?

I originally started thinking about telecommuting in response to the question: why can’t you [rocket scientists] do something about traffic? The point being that growing traffic congestion, in the 1970s, had become a source of air pollution, reduced productivity, energy dissipation and a whole host of other undesirable things.  My reasoning was: Continue reading Telecommuting in the automated driving age

Brexit-induced teleworking?

On 23 June 2016 the voters of the United Kingdom opted to leave the European Union; Brexit won. So far the consequences have been jubilation, shock, horror, recrimination, disaster and confusion. But one of the consequences may be a surge in Brexit-induced teleworking. Here’s why.

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Telemedicine to Uber?

A column about telemedicine by Mike Freeman in the Los Angeles Times of 19 March 2016 is headlined “Doctor visits could be like Uber”. The introduction reads:

Though it may sound farfetched, seeing a doctor could move in that direction if telemedicine gains acceptance.

How time flies. On my desk is a report By Ben Park titled: Introduction to Telemedicine: Interactive Television for Delivery of Health Services. The report, from the Alternate Media Center at the School of the Arts, New York University, is dated June 1974. This report appeared just before my research team’s December 1974 report on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff. The gist of both reports was that information technology can substitute for many travel purposes, when configured properly. The technology of 2016 is far more powerful than that of 1974. Both telework and telemedicine are happening in ever greater variety today.

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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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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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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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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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