Some summer musings about the future

I haven’t been officially soothsaying for a decade or three so I thought I would limber up my skills by indulging in some summer musings about the relatively near future. That’s always a little dangerous because reality usually bounces quite a bit around the epidemic curve trend lines. Given that this is an election year in many parts of the globe, the bounce might be more than I expect.

So hold on and try your own versions of these three that assume nothing changes quickly. Keep in mind that climate change is the elephant in the corner.

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Teleworking: Back to basics

What got me started in research on telecommuting in the first place was this: In 1970 an urban planner said to me: “If you can put man on the moon, why can’t you do something about traffic?” At the time I was concentrating on ways to adapt my “rocket science” expertise from outer space to earth. The question struck home.

I started with first principles: why do we have so much traffic? The answer was that much of it, roughly half of the time, was from people driving between their homes and work in an office at some distance away.

Next question: what do they do when they get to the office?

Answer: much of the time they’re interacting with someone else, usually over the phone, or doing solo thinking.

My reaction: that’s dumb, why don’t they just do that at home and skip getting involved in traffic, wasting energy and creating air pollution?

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Teleworking with a motion disability

In 1970 I was working with Rancho los Amigos Hospital in Downey, California, to develop its Rehabilitation Engineering Center. The purpose of the center was to develop assistive technologies for people with a motion disability (problems with moving around). At the time, organizations promoting care for the disabled were concentrating on ways of getting the disabled to the physical workplace rather than finding ways for allowing them to work from anywhere. This was a period when I was developing my ideas about teleworking but before I actually tried implementing it.

Now, a half century later, comes this article by Lucy Reed with a 21st Century approach to the same problem. Teleworking with a motion disability, whether you’re a gig worker or a traditional employee. Enjoy!

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Defining the edges of telework

In my last blog I wrote about the basic analysis steps needed for determining how telecommutable a job is. The objective was to show how you might lump your tasks together in ways that maximize your work-from-home time and effectiveness. But we may need to more closely define the edges of telework; where it’s feasible and where it isn’t.

So, let’s concentrate on identifying those conditions that are more conducive to  working at the office.

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Designing hybrid Teleworking

Last April I wrote an overview of the design principles for hybrid teleworking (or WFH, if you insist). Here’s a more detailed set of how-to’s for designing hybrid teleworking, for both telemanagers and teleworkers. They are adapted from my 1998 book, Managing Telework and my years of training teleworkers and telemanagers.

Step 1. Rethinking work.

Think about your job; the collection of tasks you need to complete in order to meet the objectives of your work. Concentrate on the little tasks, rather than the SAVE The WORLD — by FRIDAY ones, the tasks that take only a portion of the day. These are scattered almost randomly throughout the week, right? In fact, to check this, try keeping a log of the tasks you perform over a period of a week or two. Make a list of them.

Now, examine each task and decide whether you can complete it by your self, possibly with some technological aids, or need to communicate with someone in order to fulfill the requirements. Do this for each of the tasks in your log. Also note how long each task takes to complete. Divide your task list into two parts: those you can do by yourself and those where you need to communicate with other people, or distant resources in specific locations. Add the task completion times for each of the two lists: solo and others.

You now have the basis for the work from home (or somewhere nearby) decision. Note that I haven’t mentioned timing yet. The big question is: can you lump all the solo tasks together so that they can be grouped into one or more 8-hour blocks (assuming a 40-hour work week)?

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COP28: The prelude

COP28, the 28th Conference Of the Parties has begun this week with representatives from 200 countries. The main theme of the conference is fast tracking the transition to zero net emissions of greenhouse gases and, specifically, to get half the way to zero by 2030. Further, the goal is to limit global warming to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial levels. What are the chances of success?

First, note that the world exceeded 1.5C for a day or more just recently. Global average temperature continues to increase monthly. Most of the increase is due to China, the United States, the European Union and India. Most of the ill effects of that increase fall on other countries, particularly those that have low emissions. So what should happen during COP28?

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Remodeling central cities

In January and June I wrote about the impending glut of office space in downtown areas. This is the result of the widespread adoption of telework starting with the Covid crisis. Now, more than three years later, it appears that the teleworkers remain resistant to full-time work in those central offices. Although the number of days they do come to the downtown office have increased, the average appears to be between two and three days per week. City centers clearly need remodeling.

So, the dilemma remains for the owners of all these office-dominant buildings. In many cases rental income is not just down, it’s seriously less than expenses. The problem has expanded to other areas as well. Businesses that depended on the daily influx of all those office workers now find that the flow has been cut at least in half. Once crowded sidewalks are now almost empty. Shops have been closed. Tax income has dropped for the cities. Crime rates in downtown areas have increased. The central cities as we knew them seem to have died.

But the buildings are still there. All that expensive real estate still exists. It would be foolish to just let it rot. So, what should we do to save the situation? Here are some ideas.

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A gleam on the horizon for the climate

Most of my writing on climate change has shown some level of despondence. So far. But now I’m beginning to see a gleam on the horizon. Despite what has happened this summer. The ungainly ships of state are beginning to turn around. Here are some examples.

The United Kingdom

The UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has been walking back some of his government’s promises on climate. For example, he has been pushing back several green targets from 2030 to 2035, including a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars; relaxing the phaseout of new gas boilers; and cessation of drilling for oil in the North Sea. His reason is that he doesn’t want to unduly burden citizens with the costs associated with these changes.

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Climate check: August 2023

At the end of what is generally the hottest month of the year in the northern hemisphere, I suppose it’s time to do a climate check for August 2023. Here’s list of some of what has happened, in no particular order.

Hurricanes

  • Hurricane Hilary turned from a Category 4 Pacific hurricane into a tropical storm as it threatened Southern California for the first time in 84 years. There was at least one fatality and almost 3,000 people were displaced by it.
  • Typhoon Doksuri struck northern China, causing the most rain to fall in Beijing since records were first kept in 1883. It also caused a severe risk to one of Xi Jinping’s pet projects: Xiong’an New Area.
  • Hurricane, then Tropical Storm Idalia devastated sections of northern Florida. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power and rescuers pulled dozens of people from flooded homes.
  • Franklin will go down as the first major hurricane 2023 season: a category three with winds of 115 mph 120 mph. This one is not a threat to land.
  • NOAA forecasters predict an “above normal” hurricane season as a result of record warm sea-surface temperatures.

Heat

  • NOAA forecasters predict excessive heat across the south-central US.
  • Climate change continues with an annual temperature increase of 0.14F (0.078C)
  • The 10 warmest years in the historical record have all occurred since 2010.
  • Heat domes seem now to be an annual phenomenon in the US and Europe as the jet stream reconfigures itself.
  • Canadian wildfire emissions are 6 times higher than average this year. A forest fire in Greece is the largest ever recorded by the European Union.

Trend

The temperature trend is up everywhere. Global warming continues apace, with little substantive prospect of a change in its rate. Governments and industry worldwide may be described as inactive at best, regressing at worst, with little prospect for change in the near future. They all are kicking the can down the road; maintaining their promises for 2030 or 2050 but failing to make significant progress toward their announced goals. The UK seems to be the leader in that trend, with Rishi Sunak waffling on, or even negating previous decisions on drilling for oil in the North Sea.

I suppose that I should apologize for being impatient but I’ve been putting up with this foot-dragging for more than a half century now. I’m tired of it. If you’re with me, keep yelling at the climate perpetrators to make real, positive changes. Otherwise it will steadily continue to get worse.

Happy September!

Heat: Altering the future

Heat is altering the future on this planet. If you haven’t yet personally experienced the effects of global warming, you surely must have heard about them. July, like June, has produced record-breaking temperatures world wide. If that’s not bad enough, the future will clearly get worse every year, according to almost all scientists who study the phenomena.

Unless we, collectively, do something about it. The sooner we act, the quicker this trend will slow down. By acting I mean stopping putting carbon into the atmosphere. Stopping, not reducing. Every additional atom of carbon dioxide or methane in the atmosphere makes thing a bit worse. Regardless of its source.

Basics

For example, Phoenix, Arizona, has had 31 straight days in June-July with the temperature at or exceeding 110F (43.3C). For reference on the human impact of this temperature, NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has a handy chart showing the relationship between temperature, humidity and human survival. Note that 110F with only 36% humidity makes sunstroke, heat cramps or heat exhaustion likely and heatstroke possible with prolonged exposure and.or physical activity. Even at 10% humidity those problems are possible. But for 31 straight days? Next year it might 40 straight days.

Of course Phoenix is a desert city and its humidity tends to be low in summer but the point is that the annual number of really hot days is increasing faster than seems possible just a few years ago. Kim Stanley Robinson’s prophetic book “The Ministry of the Future” begins with a story about a (fictional) city in India that suffers a devastating heat wave that kills most of its population. Review that NOAA chart for your own location.

All of this is because we continue to pump more carbon into the atmosphere, day after day. That has to stop if we are to survive long term. If we are to stop the boiling.

My blog in May, written by Lucy Reed, focused on what you personally can do to relieve climate stress. I’m focusing here on the broader picture of what must be done to stop climate change. There are three main objects of needed effort: government; polluting industry and us.

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