Category Archives: Telework/telecommuting

Comments on any number of topics related to telework, telecommuting, ework, distributed work, the virtual office, or whatever is your favorite name for using information technology for achieving location independence.

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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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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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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Telework in a time of disasters

For years I have been urging organizations to adopt telework if only as a quick response in times of disaster. Now we are in time of two major disasters: one a pandemic, the other an unwarranted invasion. The first disaster provoked a massive increase in teleworking globally. The second disaster may provoke a new form of teleworking: a teleinsurgency.

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Telework, telecommuting, Remote work; Again What’s the difference?

Judging from the comments I get, there is still a fair amount of confusion as to what, exactly, are the definitions of teleworking, telecommuting and remote working? My answers go into some detail but, first, here are my general definitions:

  • Teleworking: ANY form of substitution of information technologies (such as telecommunications and/or computers) for normal work-related travel; moving the work to the workers instead of moving the workers to work.
  • Telecommuting: Periodic work out of the principal office, one or more days per week, either at home, a client’s site, or in a telework center; the partial or total substitution of information technologies for the commute to work. The emphasis here is on reduction or elimination of the daily commute to and from the workplace. Telecommuting is a form of teleworking. Telemedicine is another form of telework except the emphasis is on the type of work performed rather than the trip savings.
  • Remote working: Another popular name for teleworking. I personally dislike the term because of the the possible inference that the workers are somehow disengaged from their work rather than simply working at a distance from the principal workplace.
  • Hybrid working: The split between teleworking and traditional office working in which X days per week, on average, are spent teleworking and the rest in the traditional office. Our previous research shows that X tends to hover between 2 and 3. This form has implications on the design of the formerly traditional office. But that’s the subject of a future blog post.

Those are the quick definitions. Now here are some details.

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the telecommuting hybrid takes shape

Thanks to Covid, widespread telecommuting emerged in 2020; its more mature form, the telecommuting hybrid, has started to take shape. In early 2020 the situation was that basically all office workers were forced to work from home essentially full time. Offices, with their threat of Covid contamination, were avoided by all but the most stalwart office hermits.

Dilemmas

There are at least two main problems with this situation. First, many telecommuters did not have home environments suitable for full-time telecommuting. Second, most people enjoy and look forward to some face-to-face interaction with their colleagues; video conferencing does not quite satisfy that desire. As a result the newly hatched telecommuters suffered various forms of stress and anomie.

At the other end of the working relationship, managers found that the old, traditional ways of running things didn’t work nearly as well when their employees were geographically dispersed. Since many managers, upon becoming managers, are given little training on management techniques, their natural response has been to use the management-by-walking-around method. Clearly, this doesn’t work with telecommuting and its management-by-results philosophy.

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two transitions are happening globally

It’s that time of year when it’s useful to look back on what has been accomplished and consider what may lie ahead. In particular, it’s time to discuss the progress of two important transitions related to climate change: COP26 and teleworking.

COP26

The 26th annual United Nations Conference of the Parties, recently held in Glasgow, Scotland, was a potpourri of hopes realized and crushed. For many attendees, the hope that finally, finally some concrete action on climate change would happen turned into more frustration. There was, at least, a general agreement among the attending countries to eliminate methane production by the late 2020s, although Indonesia had second thoughts about its agreement.

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Telework and Terrorism revisited

Almost twenty years ago I wrote a page on the JALA website about the impacts of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Yet terrorism is just one of many sources of disaster that telework could have subdued.

Twenty years later my message is the same as it was then. The difference is that not much happened after that first message while plenty happened after the recent — and continuing — pandemic disaster. It clearly took something greater than the mere destruction of the twin towers in order to get the world’s attention. Telework is clearly a solution, at least in part, to many types of disaster.

We now have much greater set of impending disasters, that of climate change, that threaten to uproot many of our fondest customs and practices, even our lives. Telework is likely to be an element of the means for averting that threat.

Better late than never?

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