The favorite retort by many of us in the midwest or eastern US in the past few weeks has been: “What global warming? I’m surrounded by icicles!” Others of us, such as in the southwest (and much of Russia), have been sweltering in temperatures dozens of degrees above normal. The key to understanding all of this is to remember that weather is not climate. The polar vortex is not all there is, even when it’s errant. For some explanation see this from the Weather Channel.
Yet all this recent weird weather does allow us to crow: “Telecommuters do it at home! They don’t need to go out in all that snow, ice and slush. When disaster strikes we can deal with it (unless the power goes out too).”
In mid-May the atmospheric carbon dioxide measurement at Mauna Loa in Hawaii hit 400 parts per million (ppm). The scientists of the world (at least 95% of them) have declared that 450 ppm is the point where it may cause the atmosphere to warm to at least 2° Celsius, to the point where it was 3 million years ago (when sea levels were 75 feet higher). That, according to many forecasts, could produce many serious climate change events such as extra strength hurricanes and tornadoes—like the one that leveled parts of Moore, Oklahoma last week—not to mention inundation of all low-lying coastal areas.
Yet, apart from the immediate victims of these catastrophic events, most of us are blithely unconcerned about the omens such disruptions represent. It reminds me of the old fable about the frog in a pan of water. Continue reading Passing 400 on the way to the frog test→
It’s mid-winter and the flu season is upon us. This year’s flu season may be even more severe than last year’s. It’s not just the people with sniffles who are having problems, it’s their employers as well. Estimates appearing in the media go as high as $10 billion as the impact on productivity resulting from this year’s flu epidemic. Given that magnitude of financial impact one might consider flu to be this month’s favorite disaster.
Assuming that flu is an equal opportunity assailant we can suppose that it affects all of the US workforce. Since roughly 60% of that workforce comprises information workers—and roughly 80% of information workers are potential teleworkers—it’s reasonable to ask: why isn’t telework being used more widely as a serious flu avoidance method?
I have commented in the past about the ability of telework to mitigate the effects of disasters but hurricane Sandy gives a new twist to the issues. Most of the disasters that occur in places like California tend to be of the earthquake variety. The central effect of earthquakes is that ruptures in land surface break roads, bridges, and highways, with the disruptions lasting sometimes for months or even years at a time. Yet the information infrastructure—the telephone network, Internet and electrical power networks—tends to survive the earthquake or is quickly repairable. In these cases organizations that telework can continue operations with no or few interruptions. This is generally the case in non-earthquake related disasters as well, including blizzards, floods and fires where the roads may be blocked but the information infrastructure is intact.
I’m writing this as Hurricane Sandy is drenching and/or flooding the East Coast of the United States. It’s an appropriate time to wonder why, just a week before the vote in this very heated and close presidential campaign, neither of the contenders has mentioned climate change in any recent speeches or debates. Well that’s not exactly the case, Pres. Obama did discuss climate change in a recent interview by Sway Calloway, a reporter from MTV.
Still, I should point out that most reference to the problems of climate change by either contender have been indirect at best. Pres. Obama explains that this is simply because no one has asked him about climate change in any of the recent debates. Governor Romney, on the other hand, seems to feel that the human-engendered part of climate change is a hoax perpetrated by liberals meaning to somehow penalize the coal and oil industries. Continue reading Sandy, climate change, politics and telecommuting→
One of the fears often voiced by prospective telemanagers is the possibility that a telecommuter will, inadvertently or otherwise, leak critical confidential company information to non-company listeners. While research over the years has shown that disgruntled employees working inside the office are the most likely perpetrators of such mischief, the fears still exist. Data loss is always a concern of management, particularly IT managers. A concern that grows when the keeper of the data is somewhere else than the main office.
But sometimes the tables are turned, as in the case of the rescue of Toy Story 2.
At fairly regular intervals I get questions from the media like: “Whatever happened to the great surge in telecommuting that was predicted back in 19xx (or 20xx)?” The reporter usually hadn’t seen any recent stories about telecommuting and therefore (while imagining the headline) leapt to the conclusion that “telecommuting is dead!”
Telecommuting isn’t dead. It’s alive and well, if stealthy.
As a very recent indicator I was listening to NPR this morning as the reporter in Manhattan was describing the return to work of exurban-dwelling workers after the onslaught of Hurricane Irene. The reporter’s words were to the effect that workers seemed to be arriving by bus or car as usual or “maybe they’re telecommuting” (as an explanation of the lower than usual numbers of arrivals). An indication that disaster planning efforts that included telecommuting might actually be in effect in many companies (see some of my earlier blogs to that effect). But who’s counting?
I have also had conversations over the past few years with employees of large corporations on the topic of telecommuting, both formal and informal (stealth). The general telecommuting implementation scenario goes: Continue reading Stealth Telecommuting→
As I mentioned in my last post, the general media panic about total gridlock in LA during Carmageddon could possibly be a replay of LA during the 1984 Olympic games.
As it turned out, my forecast was right on. Here’s a shot of the I-405 freeway at Sunset Boulevard, near the southern end of the Sepulveda pass, at 2:00 PM the afternoon after the freeway closure.
The only car shown on the freeway is a parked official vehicle. Not only that, all the streets in the immediate area were traveled by only the occasional car. Not only that, the rest of Los Angeles reportedly was also congestion-free. I’d love to say that this wonderful highway emptiness was a result of a sudden interest in telecommuting but this photo was taken on a Saturday, not the usual workday. No, the sudden hiatus mainly was the result of a mass decision to stay home.
The bridge reconstruction that triggered all of this was completed hours ahead of time, on the following Sunday morning. Here’s the freeway, from the same vantage point, on Sunday afternoon, same time.
Still pretty nice, but the freeway had only been open for less than 3 hours when this was taken. The massteria still ruled. But would it last?
As is generally known, the Los Angeles region depends for its economic survival on its cars and freeways. Tomorrow a key section of one of the world’s most traveled freeways, the 405, will shut down for at least 53 hours. This action is to allow demolition of a bridge in Sepulveda Pass as part of the project (costing an estimated $1 billion) to widen the 405. The pass is the principal connection through the Santa Monica mountains between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles. The shut-down allegedly is scheduled for the weekend in order to minimize the effect on business-related traffic, i.e., the daily commutes to and from work. Normally, if such a term can be applied to Los Angeles, the to-be-closed section of the 405 handles 500,000 cars per day during the weekends. So something in the order of 1 million cars are about to be blocked from their wonted activities.
Naturally, the local news media have been having a field week over the prospects, calling the impending automotive doom Carmageddon. Also naturally, in accordance with the law of perversity of the human psyche, people who live on one side of the city tend to work on the other side. This is the primary reason for the so-called rush hour; well, it once was called the rush hour, now it tends to be four hours, twice daily. On weekends people, freed from the need to commute to work, still get on the freeways to go shopping or whatever. The word lemmings comes to mind. Why, the imminent disaster might be comparable to that of the 1984 Olympics when similar scenarios were bruited about.
But wait! As I recall, the actual traffic in LA during the 1984 Olympics was much lighter than normal; almost free-flow. What happened was that:
Workers shifted work hours or telecommuted during the Olympics;
Families moved their shopping and entertainment travel to work around the Olympics;
Truck travel was confined to non-Olympic hours.
In short, millions of people quickly adapted to the need not to travel. Could this happen again?