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.
Continue reading What is the optimal amount of telecommuting?
I am desolated to announce that Laila Padorr Nilles, my partner of more than 59 years, left this world on August 22, 2016. She often was called the “Mother of Telecommuting”, reflecting the years she has encouraged and helped me in my research on telecommuting, telework and their impacts. Laila is the one who encouraged me to leave my job in the aerospace industry and invent a new one at the University of Southern California; a position that allowed me to set up the first formal research into what I called telecommuting. That was in 1972.
Laila also helped me organize JALA Associates, now JALA International. She is the LA in JALA. She participated in JALA’s activities around the world, giving or assisting in presentations about telework in the United States, Europe, South America, Australia and Southeast Asia. She was part of the management group of the European Community Telework Forum in the 1990s. Through this period her sense of humor, perspicuity and broad outlook helped sustain us though many “interesting” periods.
Continue reading Laila Padorr Nilles, the Mother of Telecommuting
When my research team first started working on telecommuting in the mid-1970s there was no such term as “millennials”. Now it seems that millennials may have a large part in the “rescue” of telecommuting. Let me explain.
Continue reading Millennials to the rescue?
Over the years I have often said that telecommuting is like a tide, not a tidal wave, when asked why telecommuting is not an overnight sensation. Imperceptible, perhaps, but sure. Yes, the telecommuting tide is rising steadily, as it has been for years. Witness an opinion column by Robin Rauzi in the 2 March 2016 edition of the Los Angeles Times in which she writes:
Labor statistics show telecommuting on the rise. In 2010 9.5% of employees worked from home at least once a week, and high-speed Internet connectivity has made that easier since then. (Ever wonder why traffic is the worst on Thursdays? That’s the day people are least likely to work from home.)
Continue reading The tide is rising
In the January 27, 2016 issue of the Los Angeles Times, the front page headline was: Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California This reminded me of the growing transit troubles dilemma: despite government spending billions (by now trillions) of dollars on mass transit projects in the United States there’s little to show for it. But first a little history.
Continue reading Transit Troubles — again
I recently came across one of the orientation manuals we used in the mid-1980s. Its purpose was to explain telecommuting to prospective telecommuters. It’s interesting to see what, if anything, has changed between telecommuting circa 1985 and today. Here’s an excerpt from The Teleguide for a typical large company. See for yourself how much has changed.
What is Telecommuting?
Telecommuting is the substitution of telecommunications and/or computers for commuting to work. There are two main forms of telecommuting: home telecommuting and satellite center telecommuting. In home telecommuting, a Company employee works at home instead of in the office, possibly with the aid of a personal computer. In satellite center telecommuting, the employee works at an office that is close to his/her home rather than at some more distant location. Telecommunications systems interconnect the home telecommuters, the satellite centers and the “main” offices so that everyone can keep in touch. Continue reading Telecommuting circa 1985
Those who wish to find an unimpeachable estimate of the telecommuters in the US these days have a problem. For example, my own forecast of the number of US teleworkers (mostly telecommuters) in the US at the end of 2014 says that they will constitute 30% of the workforce (40+ million teleworkers) and account for reducing vehicle travel by 140 billion miles over what would happen without telecommuting. On the other hand, the National Study of Employers run by the Family and Work Institute claims that “today more employers are providing occasional telecommuting (67%) for at least some employees than in 2008 (50%).” On the third hand, Top Management Degrees claims that there will be 3.9 million teleworkers in the US by 2016 — an order of magnitude less than my forecast for 2014.
So which, if any, of these estimates is right? The answer is: it depends.
Continue reading How many telecommuters are there now?
Recently the New York Times ran an OpEd piece on the changes in urban sprawl, particularly suburban sprawl. The Times also asked for comments on the work-at-home aspects of sprawl. Here are my slightly expanded comments [not published by the Times because of length or . . . ].
The suburban sprawl (or not) trend is indeed a mixed bag. While some home owners, or prospective homeowners, may be moving to newly vacant homes in the suburbs, others are moving back into the city to occupy former office space converted to residences. Part of this is a result of the growing disconnect between where one works and where one lives. Just a few years ago the flight to the suburbs was driven by escalating land prices in the central cities; home-owning hopefuls went for affordable housing even at the price of long commutes to offices in the central cities. For many those commutes have since become telecommutes. Continue reading Urban sprawl revisited: the suburbs
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
This post is not solely about telecommuting. Rather it is on one of the chief motivations for telecommuting. What triggered this was an article by Paulo Cabral on BBC News Magazine about traffic problems in São Paolo. The article focuses on the travails of a young mother who, according to Murphy’s Law of Commuting, lives on one side of the city while her work is on the opposite side. She is often in the position of having to commute two hours each way with her youngest son with her in the car. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s not all bad news. There is love in line. Continue reading Love in line?