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!
Continue reading IBM retreats to 20th century, drops telecommuters
The recent Paris accords on global warming marked a milestone: the end of the beginning. Finally most nations agreed that global warming is real, is man-made, and that they are responsible for doing something about it.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the pledges made to reduce greenhouse gases go only about half-way to solving the problem. Worse, their pledges are only to try to make things better. That is, fingers crossed behind their respective backs. Still, they did undertake to provide an annual, transparent assessment of their individual progress toward reducing greenhouse gases. This way the slackers can allegedly suffer the disapprobation of the high achievers.
Continue reading Global warming: the end of the beginning
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:
Continue reading It’s the management, stupid — again
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.
Continue reading The focus factor vs. the office
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 Telework and organizational culture
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).”
Continue reading What global warming?
Two interesting news items came in today concerning telework and telecommuting. One was a report on CNN by a “British-American entrepreneur, professional skeptic and the author of “The Cult of the Amateur” and “Digital Vertigo” giving five reasons why the traditional office is going out of style. Another Eureka moment.
The second item was in the Jan Jose, CA’s The Mercury News blog Silicon Beat with the headline “HP reportedly calling workers back to the office” forwarding a rumor that Meg Whitman’s HP has caught Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer bug. HP’s reasoning, like Yahoo’s, is that the move to haul in the teleworkers is necessary to “create a more connected workforce and drive greater collaboration and innovation.” I won’t repeat the questionable logic of that statement here since it’s in prior blogs.
The clear conclusion of these two items is that telework will dominate the office of the future except, maybe, in Silicon Valley.
The press, both national and international, has been full lately of stories related to Yahoo’s impending termination of telecommuting for all of its employees. The reason for this termination, according to Yahoo’s spokespeople, is the need for more innovation within Yahoo so that it can gain market share. Furthermore, Yahoo’s position seems to be that innovation can only occur if the employees are always co-located and frequently interact with other employees not in their usual workgroup. It ignores the fact that most contemporary telecommuters do their telecommuting part-time and do spend time with their coworkers in face-to-face situations.
As you may have noticed in my previous two blogs on this topic I am skeptical of Yahoo’s approach. There are two aspects to my skepticism. First, there is the question of how much innovation is really needed in an organization. Second, is the premise valid that employees need to be co-located in order to be innovative?
Continue reading Telecommuting and innovation
In case you haven’t heard it yet, Marissa Mayer the new leader of Yahoo! has decided to terminate telecommuting for all Yahoo! employees as of June. Not just some telecommuting, all telecommuting. Her reasoning appears to be:
- Yahoo! needs to be more competitive;
- competitive organizations always have all their employees in the office every day so that they can interact with each other;
- therefore Yahoo! needs to have all of its employees in the office every day so that they can interact with each other and be more competitive!
The only problem with that syllogism is that statement 2, although generally applicable around the time of Abraham Lincoln, is wrong for most information-based organizations in the 21st century. Here’s why.
A recent article by Daniel Gilbert in Nature, titled Buried by bad decisions, made me rethink approaches to encouraging telework. Gilbert’s point is that humans often make bad decisions; decisions that seem sensible but aren’t because “they tend to focus on what we are getting and forget about what we are foregoing”. Gilbert continues:
For example, people are more likely to buy an item when they are asked to choose between buying or not buying it than when they are asked to choose between buying the item and keeping their money “for other purchases”. Although “not buying” and “keeping one’s money” are the same thing. . . .We will change our lives to save a child but not our light bulbs to save them all.
This description would be amusing if it were not for the fact that humanity is rushing headlong toward serious trouble because of such decision processes. Continue reading The moral imperative