The Rise of the Chief Telework Officer?

Now that the Covid-induced panicky rush to working from home has died down somewhat, more organizations are thinking about naming a Chief TeleWork Officer, or Chief Remote Work Officer. The reason? Someone needs to organize and monitor the whole telework process to make it more coherent, secure and effective for the entire organization. Most large organizations have a CEO, a CFO, a CTO and a CIO to cover Executive, Financial, Technology and Information/marketing issues, respectively. Why not a CTWO?

Here are some of the areas where the CTWO should have responsibilities and authority.

  • Telework rules and regulations.
  • Facilities management
  • Technology acquisition and development
  • Personnel training and evaluation
  • Security
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The return of the neighborhood office?

Our first test of telecommuting in 1973 was based on the idea of setting up offices near the homes of a company’s employees. The idea was to reduce or, better, eliminate the need for the employees to commute to their company’s headquarters. The information technology available in the mid-1970s was too primitive to allow employees to work from home so we called these new workplaces satellite offices. As the technology improved in capability the name morphed into neighborhood offices to give a more intuitive feel for their purpose.

Since then there have been several attempts to recreate satellite/neighborhood offices in various places around the world. Possibly the most recent of these ventures is the WeWork series. WeWork’s offices are generally located in or near city centers while the prospective users of the space are typically scattered fairly randomly around the region. So while the need for ad hoc office space may be satisfied by these central workspaces, the need for significantly reduced commuting is not. Home-based telework clearly wins the commute-reduction battle.

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Getting Your Home Office together

Now that you’ve been thrust by the Covid virus into working from home for months you may have experienced some difficulties. Or many difficulties. After all, one of the promises of teleworking is that your productivity will increase and your tension will decrease. If those aren’t happening it could be because your ad hoc home office isn’t properly organized. If that’s the case here are some tips for improving matters. It’s time to get your home office together. This may involve some negotiation.

Where

As in all real estate issues the first three items of importance are: location, location and location. Your home office should be located in a place that is relatively isolated from the rest of your home’s activities — at least while you’re working. Ideally that’s in a space or spaces, in the case of multiple home workers, that can be sealed off, at least acoustically, from the rest of your home during working hours. Not your bedroom, not the kitchen or dining room tables. Not the fire escape, especially in bad weather. Maybe the basement or attic, if you have one. The key rule here is isolation. One of the primary reasons for your improved productivity is a new freedom from interruptions. So you can do your work effectively.

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In search of that elusive serendipity

Almost from the beginning of our research on telework we had the alleged problem of loss of serendipity — that chance encounter by people in the hallway or lunchroom where the conditions were just right to lead to major positive changes in . . . whatever. Almost from the beginning we have been in search of that elusive serendipity during telework. That Aha! moment that transforms where you collectively are going. In my experience those prized chance hallway encounters among co-workers rarely are serendipitous because one factor is usually missing.

I had a truly serendipitous experience in Santa Barbara, California, in the Spring of 1971 when I asked Sam Clawson, a regional planner in that city, about how the aerospace industry could help him. His answer: “Why can’t you techies do something about traffic?” Bingo! My Aha! light went on and soon changed the direction of my career. Then, two years later, what I started to call The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff became Telecommuting. Now the question is: could that happen today or are the chances diminished when most information workers are teleworking, spread across the countryside?

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Coronavirus defeats organizational stiction

There’s a physics/engineering term called stiction. Stiction is defined as the force required to get a stationary object to move; the force needed to overcome the friction that make the object stick to where it is. In my experience organizations, even individuals, have stiction. It takes some force to get them to leave their comfortable places. For years, even decades, I have battled to get organizations to move out of their familiar positions and adopt telework. The process often takes years of urging and cajolery. The response has been slow to move from interesting but too risky to OK, lets do it. Now an unlikely force has made it happen, almost overnight. Coronavirus has defeated organizational stiction. Worldwide. It’s disaster time once again.

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Telework and evolving urban structure

In my last blog I wrote about possible impacts of the coronavirus and teleworking on cities, particularly downtowns. Specifically, I wrote about patterns of evolution of the urban structure; what will we do with all those downtown office buildings when they are mostly empty? Recently Matthew Haag in The New York Times wrote about some possibilities in his article Manhattan Faces a Reckoning if Working From Home Becomes the Norm. Here are some thoughts about how this may work.

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Coronavirus survival and telework basics

Millions of information workers have been suddenly forced into working from home, teleworking, because of coronavirus-induced lockdowns. I suspect that a large number of these workers — and their supervisors — have never experienced this before. So, in case you have missed my years of writing about telework as a means of disaster survival, here are some of the basics for surviving those lockdowns.

Supervisors

Foremost, it’s time to rethink the traditional methods of management if you haven’t already done so. Your job is to lead, not to be the work cop. When you think: “How do I know they’re working if I can’t see them?” you’re falling for the tried-and-false management myth: observation of process means knowledge of progress. It doesn’t. Here’s how to do it right.

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Covid-19 and the end of offices?

One of the continuing dangers to society in the digital age is that of binary thinking. Things, ideas, events and people are labeled as either true or false, this or that, positive or negative, no in-between. One of the most pervasive such attitudes, other than in politics, has to do with offices. The common assumption is that offices have been the way they are today “forever”, never mind that they are largely industrial revolution artifacts. Millions of workers have “always” been commuting to their offices every day. Now here comes Covid-19 and pervasive lockdowns; suddenly we are facing the prospect of no operational offices at all, at least until Covid-19 has been extinguished or at least suppressed. Then all will be back to “normal,” right?

But that is not the way things will turn out. As I hinted last time we won’t all go back to offices in the Covid-altered future. Here’s why.

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Coronavirus: the stick that urges teleworking

After last month’s blog on disasters, particularly induced by the coronavirus (COVID-19), matters have accelerated. As of this writing there were 127,863 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 4,718 deaths from it worldwide. The World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic. One of the primary recommendations for surviving the virus — or preventing it from spreading — is to stay at home. One consequence of the widespread publicity about COVID-19 is that major changes are occurring in working conditions.

Foremost among these changes is sudden emphasis on remote working aka teleworking. What decades of imploring employers has failed to do, COVID-19 is making happen. Major employers are having their employees work from home. Universities and school districts are converting to telelearning. Telemedicine is being used to lessen the load on hospital emergency rooms. The years of telling employers that teleworking helps the bottom line, teleworking’s primary carrot, have had some effect. But that effect is nothing compared to the stick provided by COVID-19.

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It’s disaster time again: telework to the rescue

The world never seems to stop having disasters. And it’s time again to start the 2020 disaster season. The disaster most in the public consciousness today is the coronavirus. I remember writing about its predecessor, SARS, as well as other disasters of the time, 16 years ago. That article is on our website under the title War, pestilence, natural disasters. What I said then is even more true today: teleworking is a great tool for coping with disasters.

For example consider China. China, Wuhan in particular, appears to be the origin of the latest pandemic. From a few reported cases in January 2020 the number of people infected with the coronavirus has swollen to more than 70,000 with almost 1800 fatalities as of this writing. Most of the people affected are in China but the disease has spread to many other countries, including the US. It has also had a growing negative effect on global commerce. The Chinese school systems have shut down after Chinese New Year because of the virus.

Or have they?

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