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.

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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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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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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Telework and City centers: imagining the futures

I remember, in the early 1970s, wondering about the impact of widespread telecommuting on CBDs (Central Business Districts). How might the CBDs be transformed by that? What would the CBD’s roles be then?

But my first priority in 1973 was to discover whether telecommuting worked at all in the real world; never mind the chances of millions of home-based telecommuters suddenly popping into existence.

I recall drafting a paper on the optimum size of cities being around 500K-800K population. My reasoning was that this mid-size could preserve most of the key characteristics of big cities without all the nasty side effects like traffic congestion, air pollution, etc. Those key characteristics included a large enough tax base (based on property) to provide basic services including transit plus art and entertainment centers and other facilities that tend to make a place unique. The paper remained as a draft and I never got it published.

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Hybrid tele/Remote-work: Determining the split

A major activity these days involves the struggle over hybrid work; deciding the split between working at home and in the office. Many teleworkers want to do it at home full time. Most employers are more concerned with getting them back into the office at least some of the time. The big question is: how much of each works best.

The answer, of course, is: it depends.

Here’s an intro to the topic, courtesy of ChatGPT. When I asked the AI about the overall personal requirements for successful tele/remote-working, here’s what I got, in about 40 seconds.

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Telework: Showing A Damped Oscillation

As a consequence of Covid, telework acceptance is undergoing a damped oscillation on a global scale. Of course it has been doing this at organization scales since the mid 1970s but now it is visible everywhere. Here is the process.

Damped oscillations

If you are unfamiliar with the term, oscillation refers to a process in which something starts to vary by changing radically in, say, a positive direction, going to a maximum value, then changing course to the opposite direction, reaching a minimum value, then repeating the cycles forever.

A damped oscillation is a process in which each additional cycle past the first one is progressively smaller in size, slowly fading away until it reaches equilibrium. Typical examples are echoes, the sound from a struck tuning fork or piano string, and the like. But more complex processes, like organizational behavior, can also show damped oscillatory behavior. Newly introduced teleworking is one such process. Here’s how it typically works.

The Covid example

Imagine an organization going along, minding its own business, when suddenly a disaster strikes. A disaster like Covid. Immediately everyone understands that, because of the infection dangers, it is very important to isolate the employees from one another wherever possible. If the organization is primarily information focused and technologically prepared, all employees are sent home to work. Thus begins the first transition.

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Energy tradeoffs in a distributed world

When I started my research into telework my goal was to reduce the time and energy spent in the daily commute to work in a world where commute distances and times were steadily increasing. As global warming accelerates it is time to look at the bigger picture: energy tradeoffs in a distributed world.

At the heart of this concept are distributed networks as initially developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense (now called DARPA). Their core idea was that, to avoid being shut down by attacks on key facilities, distribute and interconnect the facilities so that removal of one or more won’t affect the operation of the whole network. The system just works its way around the damage point. The Internet grew from that start.

Here’s a brief look at four types of network-related tradeoffs in the world’s growing dominance of electricity.

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Telework and Fixing the central City

Since I last checked on the post-Covid impact on central offices, the trend appears to be stabilizing. It appears that, nation-wide, chronic central city office vacancies are running about 50%. And there’s the rub. The situation may be fine for telecommuters and their employers but it’s bad news for the commercial real estate business and for the impacted cities themselves. A fix for central cities clearly is needed.

This situation is a result not of fear of covid but of the attraction of telecommuting. Well-paid, that is valuable, information workers prefer to work from home at least half-time. And they are insisting on it. Their employers have discovered that their bottom line actually does improve rather than suffer when their staff telecommutes at least part time.

In addition to the productivity jump, part of this improvement is the result of reduced facility costs. Downtown office space is expensive so the best strategy is to use as little of it as is necessary. Sometimes a wait is required before renewing/dropping the lease for space but the reduction is clearly happening.

What to do?

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Near Future Estimates: Telework and Climate

Now that we’ve arrived at a new year it’s time to consider what might be coming up with respect to telework and climate change. The short answer is that the future of telework looks rosy while the future of the climate continues to be grim. Further, although telework is looking good some of its disruptive side effects are definitely appearing. While global warming continues pretty much unabated, reductions in the rate of increase appear on the horizon.

Here are some details.

Telework

A major side effect of the Covid pandemic was the almost instant rush of office workers from downtowns to home offices. Now that Covid is essentially over in the United States and Europe, if not in China, many tradition-minded executives demanded that their employees return full-time to their central urban offices. That usually didn’t work. Those millions of workers who have experienced working from home for more than two years are resisting going back to the old ways full time.

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