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?
Today I had an iMessage exchange with my astute grand-niece about climate change, ending up with thoughts about change dynamics. This was triggered by her comment that she was confined to the house because of the miserable air quality in Seattle. Now Seattle is not one of the places that frequently comes up in discussions of air quality. Yet, for the second time this week, Seattle’s air quality was comparable to Beijing’s (112 vs. 151 today; a few days ago Seattle was more polluted than Beijing).
The reason for this? Forest fires in British Columbia and smoke therefrom drifting down to Seattle. Advice to all, but especially to women of childbearing age: Stay indoors!! This is what was annoying my grand-niece. It is also what is annoying many women around the world as global warming aids in the ignition of forest fires. The west coast of North America has had a disastrous fire season so far this year, attributable to climate change.
As an illustration, here’s part of our conversation, revolving around the possibility that fruits and vegetables may not in the future be what they used to be. Continue reading Climate change; thoughts on the dynamics
Telework/telecommuting has always been based on the concept of location independence: the idea that some jobs/tasks are independent of where they are performed. Our mantra has been to move the work to the worker instead of moving the worker to work.
The telecommuting portion of telework concentrates on local situations; usually urban-oriented, replacing some or all of the daily commute between home and workplace. In fact, this was the brainstorm I had one day around 1970 while stuck in near-zero miles per hour traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. To make it worse an overhead traffic control sign urged: “Maintain Your Speed”. Inner thoughts: “My job generally involves thinking, computing, writing and otherwise doing solo stuff. Why can’t I just do it at home? Why am I wasting hours sitting here inhaling carbon monoxide and stressing?”
Continue reading Location independence 2.0
Sustainability apparently means different things to different people. Fundamentally, sustainability refers to the ability of the human race to survive into the indefinite future. The crux of the sustainability dilemma is the tension between what we want to do and what Mother Nature allows us to do while remaining on Earth. I would like to summarize and expand upon an article that appeared recently in Nature Sustainability. The article’s title is “A good life for all within planetary boundaries”. It was produced by a team from the Sustainability Research Institute of the University of Leeds, UK and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany.
The fundamental constraint on sustainability derives from the fact that we’re stuck here on Mother Earth, therefore we must take pretty good care of her if we are to be around very long. What Mother provides us is breathable air, potable water, arable soil, sources of energy and a variety of raw materials that we can make into useful products. The fundamental constraint on “the good life” is our ability to realize at least a minimum level of health and other human needs. The researchers for the paper quoted above described this as the ability of humanity to stay within a doughnut; the inner boundary of the doughnut comprises the human needs requirements while the outer boundary comprises the constraints imposed by nature.
Continue reading The sustainability dilemma: will we make it?
In June I posted a piece about global warming. The focus was on the role that methane could play in accelerating the warming process. On 23 August 2017 the New York Times published an article about the disappearance of permafrost in Alaska. The article, by Henry Fountain, begins with this:
The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even here in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages.
Continue reading Global Warming, Part 2
The media have frequent stories about one aspect or other regarding global warming. What they often don’t do is discuss the tradeoffs; the rocks and the hard places on the path to a livable and sustainable climate. The problem with all these bits and pieces of information is that, while we are discussing them, the climate is changing — mostly for the worse — while we continue to be locked in unproductive discussion. The climate clock is ticking whether or not we’re paying attention. I’ve written about this before, here and here, but now it’s time to expand on those ideas.
An article by Andreas Goldthau in the 8 June 2017 issue of (paywall) Nature covers many of the main rocks and hard places. Its emphasis is on the role of the G20 nations plus China in approaching the solution. Here’s a summary of it with my own comments.
Continue reading Global Warming: The rocks and the hard places
Way back in the distant past, the early 1970s, as I was trying to focus my thoughts on telecommuting, telemedicine kept appearing as one of the options. Assessing the future of telemedicine by testing it was one of my research team’s initial set of possibilities. But the complexities of dealing with the medical establishment — and the fact that we had a very limited research budget — led us to focus on more accessible business operations; the insurance company we used as our first test site.
The basic concept for both telework and telemedicine is the same: Where and how is it possible to use information technology to couple expensive/scarce resources with human needs? In the case of telemedicine the resources — physicians and some health care personnel together with their support equipment and facilities — can be both scarce and expensive. Those in need of the sort of care they provide must often travel great distances to get from home to the facilities, face fees beyond their capacity, or go without. The prospect is daunting!
Continue reading Telemedicine: Its Future Beckons
A little more than a decade ago I wrote an article in jala.com on the potential impact of the declining oil supply on promoting telework. The piece focused on the so-called Hubbert Curve that shows the history of increasing — and potential future of declining — global oil production: the Peak Oil problem. The 2005 version of that discussion pointed out one possible future, as shown here. That was Peak Oil 1.0.
Continue reading Peak Oil 2.0, the new look
When my research team first started working on telecommuting in the mid-1970s there was no such term as “millennials”. Now it seems that millennials may have a large part in the “rescue” of telecommuting. Let me explain.
Continue reading Millennials to the rescue?
Over the years I have often said that telecommuting is like a tide, not a tidal wave, when asked why telecommuting is not an overnight sensation. Imperceptible, perhaps, but sure. Yes, the telecommuting tide is rising steadily, as it has been for years. Witness an opinion column by Robin Rauzi in the 2 March 2016 edition of the Los Angeles Times in which she writes:
Labor statistics show telecommuting on the rise. In 2010 9.5% of employees worked from home at least once a week, and high-speed Internet connectivity has made that easier since then. (Ever wonder why traffic is the worst on Thursdays? That’s the day people are least likely to work from home.)
Continue reading The tide is rising