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.
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.
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.
It’s that time of year again. Time to review progress in 2019. At least as it relates to either telework and/or the environment. As with most things there is good news and bad news.
For telework/telecommuting it is mostly good news: more and more workers around the world — and their employers/clients — are accepting and adopting the idea of location independence. The number of bloggers about telework is also growing, especially in Spanish-speaking countries. As natural and unnatural disasters occur so, too, does the number of teleworkers if only temporarily.
Climate change has a recurring problem called stiction. You’re probably familiar with the effect, although the term itself is mostly used in physics or engineering contexts. For example, when you’re trying to move an object that’s been sitting on the table or the floor for a while it may resist the move until suddenly it breaks loose and heads in the direction you’re pushing it. That initial resistance force is called stiction.
Many of us are pushing hard to combat climate change but nothing seems to be happening, as I commented in June. We’re all hoping that suddenly matters will begin to improve but so far they’re not. The global climate has a stiction problem. On 26 November 2019 the United Nations released a report on the Emissions Gap; the difference between the global rate of emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the rate required to keep global warming below 1.5°C?. Not only are we not closing that gap, we’re enlarging it.
Telecommuting can be particularly important during and after disasters. Thirty years ago, on 17 October 1989, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake, named the Loma Prieta, occurred at almost 6:00 in the evening near Santa Cruz, California. The shock was felt over much of California but particularly in the San Francisco region. Bridges and freeways crumbled or collapsed. Buildings were damaged, some destroyed. Almost 4,000 people were injured and 63 were killed. The damage was estimated at almost $6 billion.
Coincidentally JALA was running a demonstration test of telecommuting in cooperation with the state government of California. One of our test sites was the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The PUC’s offices in downtown San Francisco were essentially trashed by the earthquake. They remained that way for more than a week. It was impossible to work there until the offices were repaired.
In my blog titled: Climate change: thoughts on the options, almost a year ago, I wrote about the implications of climate change for our future. That blog was based on the 2018 release of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report. Well, according to the latest IPCC report, the future is coming faster than we thought – at least in the sense that our time to make changes is shrinking.
The idea of quickly getting information to/from rural areas has been around for a long time. In 1970, during my rocket scientist days, I gave a briefing to Jim Fletcher, the incoming head of NASA, on the civilian applications of space. One of the scenarios I presented was that of communications satellites used as a method of relaying information to rural areas. In that case it was medical information from the National Library of Medicine to Ethiopia where there was a famine. Primitive telemedicine. There was no rural broadband then.
The main point of telework is to locate your desk somewhere close to where you live that doesn’t require you to use a car to get there. One of my main goals in 1973 was to reduce the energy needed to commute to and from work. The automobile is the most used form of commute transportation in the US and other countries. It also creates a lot of greenhouse gases, thereby contributing to global warming. So, where’s your desk? At/near your home or somewhere that necessitates car use?
Exactly a year ago I wrote a blog entitled TELEWORK AND UNNATURAL DISASTERS: BREXIT. Today one or other of the versions of that disaster is almost upon us — or not. The United Kingdom and the European Union have been talking past each other for the past year. As a result the UK might just fall out of the EU with no formal political arrangements of any sort between them, an unnatural disaster indeed.
The UK’s prime minister is at odds with parliament. Parliament is at odds with itself. Both are at odds with large parts of the populace. The EU doesn’t particularly like the UK’s exit plan Brexit. There appears to be a growing part of both the populace and the government to say: “Oh, just forget it! We’re staying in the EU.” But, as I write this, the governments, at least, have to make some sort of formal decision by April 12th. Stay or leave and, if the decision is leave, what’s the deal? Very complicated.