Near Future Estimates: Telework and Climate

Now that we’ve arrived at a new year it’s time to consider what might be coming up with respect to telework and climate change. The short answer is that the future of telework looks rosy while the future of the climate continues to be grim. Further, although telework is looking good some of its disruptive side effects are definitely appearing. While global warming continues pretty much unabated, reductions in the rate of increase appear on the horizon.

Here are some details.

Telework

A major side effect of the Covid pandemic was the almost instant rush of office workers from downtowns to home offices. Now that Covid is essentially over in the United States and Europe, if not in China, many tradition-minded executives demanded that their employees return full-time to their central urban offices. That usually didn’t work. Those millions of workers who have experienced working from home for more than two years are resisting going back to the old ways full time.

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COP27: A little bit of this, none of that

The 27th United Nations Conference of Parties has limped to a close with results that are disappointing at best. The delegates did agree to provide some forms of help to the countries most affected by climate change but nothing about the gorilla in the room: climate change itself. It was little bit of this (help), but none of that (serious change in emissions). So another year has passed without a serious international effort to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, the sources of climate change.

Here are some details plus a bit on the other Conference of Parties, COP15.

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The climate countdown: 2022 edition

This year’s international conference on the climate, COP27, begins on Sunday, November 6th at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The previous conference, COP26, resulted in a number of promises to reduce the production of greenhouse gases (GHGs) with the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. COP27’s goal is to see how well the world has been doing so far and to plan what must happen next.

The key issues are: is global warming better or worse than it was in COP26; how fast is global warming changing and in what direction; how close are the facts to what was promised last year and what must be done to reach the 1.5C goal?

It’s time to check the evidence so far and think about alternative futures.

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Telework’s 49th anniversary!

October 2022 marks the 49th anniversary of the coining of the words telework and telecommuting. The occasion was the receipt of a grant from the National Science Foundation to my research team at the University of Southern California. The title of the grant was: “Development of Policy on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff”. My fellow researchers included professors Paul Gray from the Graduate School of Business Administration; Rick Carlson from the School of Engineering; and Gerry Hanneman from the Annenberg School of Communication.

Our overall objective was to see, in a real-world setting, whether running a dispersed workforce interconnected by telecommunications and computer technology, could be made practical. Our test laboratory was the west coast division of a major national insurance company. We ran an active test for several months and, on its completion, decided that our objective had been met and the test was a success. We wrote a report of the project to the National Science Foundation in 1974 and, with John Wiley & Sons in New York, published a book on it in 1976 titled “The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff: Options for Tomorrow”.

Then the real struggle began.

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City centers updated

It’s time to review some of my comments of 2020 in light of recent events. So here is an account of city centers revisited: updated to 2022. I said in 2020 that there would be an exodus of office workers from city centers for two reasons: covid-19 and the ease of teleworking. Indeed that happened worldwide. City centers that normally were bustling became deserted even in mid-weeks. I also predicted that, as Covid-19 dangers eased, some office workers would come back to their former offices full time — but most would not. So far that prediction has held in 2022.

Here’s some of what has happened, as reported by various news media.

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Telework in Summertime

Summertime is here. In many places it’s here with a vengeance. Heat waves are roasting Europe and North America. It’s clearly time to consider telework in summertime. Here are some comments.

Britain breaks heat records

In mid-July British authorities published “red” heat warnings for the first time ever. An overheated Summertime. Temperatures reached 100F in London, the Midlands, the south of the UK and Wales. Records were broken in several cities.

Now, for Texans, this doesn’t sound too unusual but consider the infrastructure in the UK. Houses and offices are built to retain heat not get rid of it. Ditto for subways. Neither are adapted to hot summers. Consequently the traditional commute to/from work is enervating as is much time spent in an non-airconditioned office.

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Global warming: Checking the changes

Now that Summer has arrived in the Northern hemisphere it’s time to check the changes in global warming since COP26. It seems that the answer is: very little change, most of it negative. The promises I wrote about in April last year are still mostly promises. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to steadily rise. One new factor has altered the future for the worse: the war in Ukraine.

What follows is a sorry summary of recent events, their consequences and some opportunities.

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The telework tide is changing everything else

Thanks to the pandemic, acceptance of telework has become a tide that is changing many other things. It has washed out the status quo antes in many industries that once were highly centralized. A full return to that status quo, highly prized by many senior executives, is becoming less likely every day.

And then there are the side effects, some of which I have touched on in earlier posts. Some may be revising the shape of cities and transportation practices. Hopefully, one side effect is a decrease in global warming. Here are some thoughts.

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Steps to combatting global warming: Methane

Although much of the focus in talks about global warming is on carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) may be even more important in the near term. The reason methane is important is because it is much more effective than CO2 at increasing warming. Even though it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere. So while atmospheric CO2 may be around for hundreds of years, methane is a powerful factor now. Here are some facts and suggested steps to combating global warming by reducing methane production.

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Telework’s evolution: A progress report

Earlier this year I wrote about defining telework and its synonyms. Much has happened regarding telework and its evolution over the past two years. Here’s a progress report.

Nomenclature

As I wrote in January 2022, telework is now named differently quite often. The most popular terms in 2022 appear to be remote work and hybrid work. Both terms are often perceived erroneously, particularly that the work arrangement must be full-time. That is, the hapless worker must always be confined to working from home or to a rigid schedule, designed by the Chief Executive Officer, of a fixed ratio of days-per-week in the office, the rest of the time at home.

This misunderstanding is not news to me. It has been a problem over the past five decades, people miss the point that telework is a flexible tool; to be used when and where it is appropriate. It is by no means all or nothing.

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