Our first test of telecommuting in 1973 was based on the idea of setting up offices near the homes of a company’s employees. The idea was to reduce or, better, eliminate the need for the employees to commute to their company’s headquarters. The information technology available in the mid-1970s was too primitive to allow employees to work from home so we called these new workplaces satellite offices. As the technology improved in capability the name morphed into neighborhood offices to give a more intuitive feel for their purpose.
Since then there have been several attempts to recreate satellite/neighborhood offices in various places around the world. Possibly the most recent of these ventures is the WeWork series. WeWork’s offices are generally located in or near city centers while the prospective users of the space are typically scattered fairly randomly around the region. So while the need for ad hoc office space may be satisfied by these central workspaces, the need for significantly reduced commuting is not. Home-based telework clearly wins the commute-reduction battle.
Continue reading The return of the neighborhood office?
One issue comes up constantly: that of testing potential teleworkers to see if they would be successful teleworkers. Employers, nervous about having employees who aren’t in “the office” part of the time — or never — hope that there might be some way of testing telework candidates that will raise the likelihood of success. Psychological testing is the option most frequently proposed.
My answer is: it depends.
Continue reading Testing potential teleworkers
Ordinarily this blog concerns “normal” telework, among other issues. But this time the focus is on telework as it happens to coincide with telepolitics in Spain’s region of Catalonia. In case you haven’t been following the goings-on in Catalonia because of Trumpruses here’s the story.
Catalonia, although an official, semiautonomous region of Spain, has been chafing at the bit for decades if not centuries. Many Catalans want Catalonia to evolve into a separate country. The Spanish government is dead set against such a move. Nevertheless Catalonia, which has its own parliament, voted in a referendum on 1 October 2017 to become independent under its President, Carles Puigdemont. Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, declared the referendum unconstitutional, null and void and set about arresting the leaders of the separatists. Rajoy also declared a snap regional election to be held on 22 December 2017 for the purpose of returning Catalonia to the fold.
Continue reading Telework and telepolitics in Catalonia
The numbers are exploding: people can’t afford to live near where they work. Near means within half an hour or so from home to workplace (see my recent blog) . Now, in an article by George Avalos in the San Jose Mercury News, the plight is laid out for the Silicon Valley. Titled Housing woes spur Bay Area residents to ponder exodus from costly region, poll says, Avalos writes that the battle between ever-so-slowly-growing supply and bursting demand for homes in the valley clearly affects prices. “In July, the median price of a single-family home in the nine-county Bay Area was $804,000, up 10.1 percent from a year earlier ” Avalos wrote. Mind boggling.
There are two possible solutions to this dilemma: a) suddenly become immensely rich; b) move to your employer’s facilities full time or; c) move to where you can afford the housing. The second option evokes, mostly negative visions of the company town. The third option requires some serious thought.
Continue reading Can’t afford to live near work? Telecommute!
According to the Wall Street Journal of 18 May 2017 [Note: the referenced article has a paywall], IBM has decided to call in all its telecommuters. The option given to the telecommuters is either to come in to an IBM facility every day or look for a job with some other employer. This was a shock to me since I helped IBM get its telecommuting program started in 1984, way back in the 20th century. So IBM has been supporting (and lauding) telework for 33 years. And now they have decided to stop it, to retreat to the pre-1980s. This does not seem to be a wise move. Why are they doing it?
The answer from IBM sounds a lot like Marissa Mayer’s excuse for calling in the telecommuters of Yahoo! Business is bad and it doesn’t seem to be getting better so it’s time call in all the troops in order to ignite a burst of innovation. Get them together every day so that the ensuing interpersonal communication (or friction), like striking a match, will produce light and the company will turn the corner and prosper. The implication, of course, is that business is bad because of telecommuting. Therefore it’s the telecommuters who are the source of the problem. It’s what my friend, Gil Gordon, calls telescapegoating!
Continue reading IBM retreats to 20th century, drops telecommuters
When we first started research on telecommuting in 1973 our focus was on whether telecommuting was practical in the real world, never mind the optimal amount of telecommuting. I insisted that the research involved testing telecommuting in an actual company, one whose bottom line was purely business oriented. The question of the optimal amount of telecommuting/teleworking didn’t come up because we were concerned with whether it was practical at all.
In those days the typical telecommuter was a person who worked using a computer terminal that was connected by wires to a mainframe computer somewhere. The idea of the person doing this from home was simply not practical; telecommunications cost — the cost of connecting that computer terminal to a distant mainframe via telephone connections all day — was simply too high. So in those mid-1970s days we concentrated on people working in what we called satellite offices: typically suburban offices solely owned by the employing company for use by its employees. Only after the arrival of personal computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s was it practical to think about home based telecommuting.
Continue reading What is the optimal amount of telecommuting?
There has been lots of news recently about automated driving. Teslas on autopilot, driverless (sort of) Ubers, all the main auto manufacturers developing self-driving cars. How is all this driverless driving likely to affect telecommuting? After all, telecommuting was invented as a way to reduce time- and energy-wasting commuting. What if the commuters of the (near) future can sit back and telecommute en route?
I originally started thinking about telecommuting in response to the question: why can’t you [rocket scientists] do something about traffic? The point being that growing traffic congestion, in the 1970s, had become a source of air pollution, reduced productivity, energy dissipation and a whole host of other undesirable things. My reasoning was: Continue reading Telecommuting in the automated driving age
On 23 June 2016 the voters of the United Kingdom opted to leave the European Union; Brexit won. So far the consequences have been jubilation, shock, horror, recrimination, disaster and confusion. But one of the consequences may be a surge in Brexit-induced teleworking. Here’s why.
Continue reading Brexit-induced teleworking?
A column about telemedicine by Mike Freeman in the Los Angeles Times of 19 March 2016 is headlined “Doctor visits could be like Uber”. The introduction reads:
Though it may sound farfetched, seeing a doctor could move in that direction if telemedicine gains acceptance.
How time flies. On my desk is a report By Ben Park titled: Introduction to Telemedicine: Interactive Television for Delivery of Health Services. The report, from the Alternate Media Center at the School of the Arts, New York University, is dated June 1974. This report appeared just before my research team’s December 1974 report on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff. The gist of both reports was that information technology can substitute for many travel purposes, when configured properly. The technology of 2016 is far more powerful than that of 1974. Both telework and telemedicine are happening in ever greater variety today.
Continue reading Telemedicine to Uber?
Who needs face-to-face? One of the primary issues in determining the telework ability of a particular job or person is the extent to which face-to-face interaction is needed. Most jobs can be analyzed in terms of the amount of time face-to-face interaction is required versus the time that it is neither required or can be substituted by some form of technology. In the early days of telework the available technology was simply the telephone; therefore face-to-face requirements (meetings, informal discussions, presentations, and so on) had no substitute. So the time available for teleworking was basically the time when the worker could work alone.
As technology has improved it has reached the point where it can substitute effectively for many forms of communication that formerly required face-to-face interaction. Still, there are cases where face-to-face is required or certainly desirable. Let’s look at a few. Continue reading Face-to-face: Who needs it?