Telecommuting: what’s in a name?

Development of Policy on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff: that’s what we called our research project at the University of Southern California, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 1973. That was a good title for winning a grant from the scientists of the US government. It wasn’t a good title for explaining our research to almost everyone else, especially the business and government organizations that we wanted to use for testing the concept.

The focus of the research team was to assess the possibility of substituting information technology for the daily commute to and from work by millions of information/knowledge workers. I decided that a catchy name might seriously help in recruiting participants. So, that October, I produced a portmanteau word: telecommuting.  It was a combination of the words: telecommunications, commuting and computers.

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Climate change; thoughts on the dynamics

Today I had an iMessage exchange with my astute grand-niece about climate change, ending up with thoughts about change dynamics. This was triggered by her comment that she was confined to the house because of the miserable air quality in Seattle. Now Seattle is not one of the places that frequently comes up  in discussions of air quality. Yet, for the second time this week, Seattle’s air quality was comparable to Beijing’s (112 vs. 151 today; a few days ago Seattle was more polluted than Beijing).

The reason for this? Forest fires in British Columbia and smoke therefrom drifting down to Seattle. Advice to all, but especially to women of childbearing age: Stay indoors!! This is what was annoying my grand-niece. It is also what is annoying many women around the world as global warming aids in the ignition of forest fires. The west coast of North America has had a disastrous fire season so far this year, attributable to climate change.

The interchange

As an illustration, here’s part of our conversation, revolving around the possibility that fruits and vegetables may not in the future be what they used to be. Continue reading Climate change; thoughts on the dynamics

Climate change and personal responsibility

As to the topic of climate change; those of you who live in the northern hemisphere, have you noticed that it’s warmer lately? Here in Los Angeles we’re into the third day of a heat wave, or as the weather guessers put it, a Heat Advisory. It’s the second time this year. Normally such things don’t happen around here until September or October. But forget about the old normal; it’s the new normal we have to worry about. Heat and floods constitute the new normal. Climate change. And it’s all your fault so don’t complain. Can’t say I didn’t warn you here and here and here for example.

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Testing potential teleworkers

One issue comes up constantly: that of testing potential teleworkers to see if they would be successful teleworkers. Employers, nervous about having employees who aren’t in “the office” part of the time — or never — hope that there might be some way of testing telework candidates that will raise the likelihood of success. Psychological testing is the option most frequently proposed.

My answer is: it depends.

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Telework: strategy for moving to the gig economy

While JALA’s efforts over the years have concentrated on telework with and for employees of larger organizations, millennials are changing the equation. Increasingly, younger employees yearn to join the ranks fo the self employed. Information technology is abetting that desire. The gig economy, often described as piecework for the underemployed, is having a similar transformation. Here Lucy Reed of Gigmine has this to say about making the transition while still being employed.

jubilant gig entrepreneur

Make a strong start to your side business to build success

by Lucy Reed
Side businesses aren’t new, but with the connectivity of the digital age, the opportunities to start your own side gig have exploded. With the allure of flexibility and earning extra income, more people are choosing to jump on these opportunities. If you’re ready to get into the gig economy, follow these tips to start strong and build with success.

Do what Inspires you

If you’re overwhelmed by all the different options, start by thinking about what inspires you. Some people naturally choose to go freelance in a field they already work in, which can be a great option for advancing your career and making the most of your skills. This is also a chance, though, to turn a passion into a profit. Building a business is a labor of love, so it’s important to choose something you really want to spend time on.

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Just the facts, Ma’am

I have tried to keep the content of this blog non-political but the political environment has become too toxic for me to keep silent. In particular there is the growing disdain for the facts on the part of our President and, apparently, most or all of the Republican Party who favor alternative facts. Alternative facts indeed! Facts are facts and repeatedly testable, alternative facts are distortions at best, outright lies at worst.

I have been continually fretting about this state of affairs, wondering how to reverse the situation. Now Dr. David Brin, the renowned astrophysicist, science fiction author and fellow futurist, has come up with a direct approach: the FACT ACT. Let’s not just stand there complaining about alternative facts, let’s do something about it. First some background.
Continue reading Just the facts, Ma’am

Employees or contractors?

In the past I have usually discussed telework in terms of employees rather than contractors who work for an organization. On 30 April 2018 the California Supreme Court made the following distinction:

[W]e conclude that in determining whether, under the suffer or permit to work definition, a worker is properly considered the type of independent contractor to whom the wage order does not apply, it is appropriate to look to a standard, commonly referred to as the “ABC” test, that is utilized in other jurisdictions in a variety of contexts to distinguish employees from independent contractors. Under this test, a worker is properly considered an independent contractor to whom a wage order does not apply only if the hiring entity establishes: (A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact; (B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

The reason this is important has to do with the benefits, beside direct income, that are available to the worker. For most of our work with telecommuting development we focused on the process of converting existing employees into successful telecommuters. In all those cases I argued that the telecommuters should be compensated the same as their non-telecommuting coworkers.

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Location independence 2.0

Telework/telecommuting has always been based on the concept of location independence: the idea that some jobs/tasks are independent of where they are performed. Our mantra has been to move the work to the worker instead of moving the worker to work.

Some history

The telecommuting portion of telework concentrates on local situations; usually urban-oriented, replacing some or all of the daily commute between home and workplace. In fact, this was the brainstorm I had one day around 1970 while stuck in near-zero miles per hour traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. To make it worse an overhead traffic control sign urged: “Maintain Your Speed”.  Inner thoughts: “My job generally involves thinking, computing, writing and otherwise doing solo stuff. Why can’t I just do it at home? Why am I wasting hours sitting here inhaling carbon monoxide and stressing?”

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Telework and unnatural disasters: Brexit

One of the reasons I recommend telework is its usefulness in allowing work continuity even in the case of natural disasters: earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards  and the like. I haven’t spent much time writing about telework and unnatural disasters. Now here’s one that’s made to order: Brexit. A disaster that the UK and the EU are just now beginning to recognize.

Amid the gory details of the Brexit process, a saga that evolves daily, is that of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The problem is that the EMA is currently domiciled in London; Canary Wharf to be exact. The role of the EMA is comparable to that of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. The EMA approves medicines for millions of Europeans.

But Wait! How can an agency responsible for the medicines of Europeans be located in a soon-to-be non-European country? Answer: Politically speaking it can’t; it must move to the Real Europe.
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The sustainability dilemma: will we make it?

Sustainability apparently means different things to different people. Fundamentally, sustainability refers to the ability of the human race to survive into the indefinite future. The crux of the sustainability dilemma is the tension between what we want to do and what Mother Nature allows us to do while remaining on Earth. I would like to summarize and expand upon an article that appeared recently in Nature Sustainability. The article’s title is “A good life for all within planetary boundaries”. It was produced by a team from the Sustainability Research Institute of the University of Leeds, UK and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany.

The fundamental constraint on sustainability derives from the fact that we’re stuck here on Mother Earth, therefore we must take pretty good care of her if we are to be around very long. What Mother provides us is breathable air, potable water, arable soil, sources of energy and a variety of raw materials that we can make into useful products. The fundamental constraint on “the good life” is our ability to realize at least a minimum level of health and other human needs. The researchers for the paper quoted above described this as the ability of humanity to stay within a doughnut; the inner boundary of the doughnut comprises the human needs requirements while the outer boundary comprises the constraints imposed by nature.

Continue reading The sustainability dilemma: will we make it?