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.
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.
After a very tumultuous year I want to wish you a very happy, satisfying and productive next year — and thereafter. Onward to 2019. Here are some things to think about for the new year.
If you haven’t already, try to expand (or start) formal teleworking in your organization. As the world economy starts to slow down it is time to think about ways you can increase your competitiveness and versatility while also reducing operating costs. Contemporary technology almost transparently enables close coordination among team members and between teams, regardless of the physical location of their members. As more than one manager has told me in the past: “I didn’t get this at first. In fact I resisted it. But my experience as a telemanager has shown me that I spend significantly less time in those tedious administrative tasks and much more time in getting the job done with my co-workers.” That, and the fact that trained teleworkers tend to stick with their employers — and take less sick leave — is what makes those bottom-line-checkers smile.
Way back in 1974, after we had completed the first successful quantified test of telecommuting, I was stunned by an announcement of the president of the test company. He said that, while the project was a great success from several points of view, the company would discontinue offering telecommuting to its employees. When I asked why he said: “Our company is non-union. We’re concerned that, if the company allows telecommuting from these satellite offices, the unions will be able to recruit the employees at one office after another. Before we know it, because of NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) rules, the company will become unionized and we don’t want that.”
A few months later I was part of a panel discussing the possible impacts of telecommuting. One of my fellow panelists was the head of strategy for the AFL/CIO. At one point he turned to me and said: “You know, this telecommuting is a terrible idea.” When I asked him why he thought so re replied: “Well, if a company’s employees are scattered all over the map, how the hell will we ever get them organized?”
We have what turns out to be a standard dilemma: The fear of becoming organized on the one hand vs the fear of not being able to organize on the other. Telecommuting/telework were in the middle. Continue reading Unions for Teleworkers?→