Tag Archives: management barriers to telecommuting

Some not so ancient history of telecommuting

As I leaf through my old (i.e., last century) presentations I thought, why not share them with the readers of this blog? So here’s one of them, circa 1992, in PDF format. It’s about 4.6 megabytes in size. You can download it here.

This was our general presentation to prospective employers of telecommuters. In 39 slides it covers the historic technological and societal forces that are acting to make telework not only desirable but inevitable for many types of jobs at least some of the time. It also tries to allay the fears of managers about losing control of their employees by showing results of actual telecommuting experience in both the public and private sectors.

Since the presentation was general in nature we used it primarily for introducing organizations to the concepts of telework and telecommuting. Detailed presentations came later, after we were able to incorporate the specifics of an organization’s culture and environment into the material.

Although the material in the presentation is from the 1990s the ideas in it are just as applicable now as they were then. Even more so since the technology behind telework has progressed to the point today where interpersonal communication is as good as, and in some cases even better than, face-to-face, regardless of the locations of the participants.

To round out the presentations, here’s one, in Spanish, presented to the Minister  of Labor of Argentina. It’s both history and some thoughts about the future.

Enjoy.

 

 

Telecommuting: what’s in a name?

Development of Policy on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff: that’s what we called our research project at the University of Southern California, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 1973. That was a good title for winning a grant from the scientists of the US government. It wasn’t a good title for explaining our research to almost everyone else, especially the business and government organizations that we wanted to use for testing the concept.

The focus of the research team was to assess the possibility of substituting information technology for the daily commute to and from work by millions of information/knowledge workers. I decided that a catchy name might seriously help in recruiting participants. So, that October, I produced a portmanteau word: telecommuting.  It was a combination of the words: telecommunications, commuting and computers.

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Employees or contractors?

In the past I have usually discussed telework in terms of employees rather than contractors who work for an organization. On 30 April 2018 the California Supreme Court made the following distinction:

[W]e conclude that in determining whether, under the suffer or permit to work definition, a worker is properly considered the type of independent contractor to whom the wage order does not apply, it is appropriate to look to a standard, commonly referred to as the “ABC” test, that is utilized in other jurisdictions in a variety of contexts to distinguish employees from independent contractors. Under this test, a worker is properly considered an independent contractor to whom a wage order does not apply only if the hiring entity establishes: (A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact; (B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

The reason this is important has to do with the benefits, beside direct income, that are available to the worker. For most of our work with telecommuting development we focused on the process of converting existing employees into successful telecommuters. In all those cases I argued that the telecommuters should be compensated the same as their non-telecommuting coworkers.

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Location independence 2.0

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.

Some history

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?”

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Telework and telepolitics in Catalonia

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.

Background

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.

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Thoughts on telework versus transportation

Telework versus transportation: for the past four decades much of my work on telework and its telecommuting subset has been on demonstrating the relative advantages and disadvantages of those two. It all started in the early 1970s when I got fed up with wasting my time sitting in traffic twice, or more, daily. The commute to and from work was a drag.

Then came the proverbial lightbulb! If what I’m doing at work simply requires a phone  (remember, this was in the dark ages of computing) and a desk, why do I have to fight traffic for more than an hour every day to do it? Why not do it from home (Starbucks hadn’t been invented yet either)?

Since then a growing number of people and organizations have come to the same conclusion, fortified by the evidence that telework and telecommuting are good for business. There are now tens of millions of teleworkers worldwide and the number continues to grow.

So now what?

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Reverse telecommuting and Urban Centers

Some recent news stories bring up the prospects of reverse telecommuting. Almost 45 years ago I wrote a piece describing the dynamics of central office versus employee residence location. The point was that, as companies become established, the residence locations of their employees tend to form a circular normal distribution — a bell-shaped curve — centered on the headquarters
(HQ) office. I gave some examples of what happens when the HQ pulls up stakes and moves to a new location some distance away, usually because the CEO wanted to both have a short commute and live in the suburbs. The initial impact is that while the CEO and other employees living nearby have a shorter commute, the average employee has a longer commute to the HQ. The result often is turmoil, dropping morale, lowered productivity and attrition. The attrition comes from those employees who can easily find jobs near their existing residences and perceive little penalty in leaving; often those are the most productive employees.

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IBM retreats to 20th century, drops telecommuters

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

Telemedicine: Its Future Beckons

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!

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Telecommuting in the automated driving age

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