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.
Continue reading Telecommuting: what’s in a name?
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.
Continue reading Employees or contractors?
I recently came across one of the orientation manuals we used in the mid-1980s. Its purpose was to explain telecommuting to prospective telecommuters. It’s interesting to see what, if anything, has changed between telecommuting circa 1985 and today. Here’s an excerpt from The Teleguide for a typical large company. See for yourself how much has changed.
What is Telecommuting?
Telecommuting is the substitution of telecommunications and/or computers for commuting to work. There are two main forms of telecommuting: home telecommuting and satellite center telecommuting. In home telecommuting, a Company employee works at home instead of in the office, possibly with the aid of a personal computer. In satellite center telecommuting, the employee works at an office that is close to his/her home rather than at some more distant location. Telecommunications systems interconnect the home telecommuters, the satellite centers and the “main” offices so that everyone can keep in touch. Continue reading Telecommuting circa 1985
How many teleworkers are there today? Who knows? As I noted in a previous blog it is hard to count teleworkers. One problem is that the definition of teleworker/telecommuter varies from country to country and counter to counter. Full-timers working at home for a distant employer are the easy core. It’s at the edges where the counting gets difficult — and the definitions differ.
Another, growing problem in the teleworker counting business is the simple fact that contemporary technology has made it really hard to count reliably. An excellent overview of the problem is given in an article in the New York Times by Cliff Zukin of Rutgers University. Titled What’s the Matter With Polling?, the article paints the picture of the rapid decrease in accessibility of your average pollee. The polling business is changing for the worse
Continue reading How many teleworkers — who knows?
Those who wish to find an unimpeachable estimate of the telecommuters in the US these days have a problem. For example, my own forecast of the number of US teleworkers (mostly telecommuters) in the US at the end of 2014 says that they will constitute 30% of the workforce (40+ million teleworkers) and account for reducing vehicle travel by 140 billion miles over what would happen without telecommuting. On the other hand, the National Study of Employers run by the Family and Work Institute claims that “today more employers are providing occasional telecommuting (67%) for at least some employees than in 2008 (50%).” On the third hand, Top Management Degrees claims that there will be 3.9 million teleworkers in the US by 2016 — an order of magnitude less than my forecast for 2014.
So which, if any, of these estimates is right? The answer is: it depends.
Continue reading How many telecommuters are there now?
One of the most confusing issues about telecommuting is that of establishing the number of telecommuters that exist in the world or in your own country. Part of this is a result of the varying definitions of telecommuting/teleworking; apparently not everyone in the world uses my definitions. For example, is someone who works at home in addition to working at his/her office the same day a telecommuter? My definition would say “no”. That definition, when used in a survey, would produce a lower number than the more inclusive one that allows us both home and in–office work on the same day. You can find more about my definitions elsewhere on this website.
With reservations like this in mind you might want to investigate three new surveys of telecommuters. Continue reading Counting telecommuters
Ever since the early-1970s, when I coined the words, people have been asking me what telecommuting and/or telework mean. I’ve given some structured definitions on the JALA website but those are often not seen by visitors or may still be unclear. So here’s another attempt at clarifying the terms, plus a little background on their origin.
It all started in 1973 when I and my colleagues at the University of Southern California (USC) began work on a grant from the National Science Foundation. The title of the grant was Development of Policy on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff. It was part of NSF’s Research Applied to National Needs (RANN) program and was designed to explore the federal policy implications of encouraging people to forego using their cars to get to and from work and to use telecommunications technology instead. The title of the grant derived from my rocket scientist days when we were really into terms like tradeoff and system design. But after watching the eyes glazing over as I told people we were working on the telecommunications-transportation tradeoff (our team called it T-cubed for short) it became clear to me that a snappier term or terms was needed, something that had a more intuitive feel. Telework and telecommuting were the result. But to further make the concept understandable I insisted that we test it in real business situations, where the proverbial bottom line was the measure of success.
At the time we did the initial research the available technology was far less powerful than it is today. The personal computer had yet to appear on the scene. Computer communications was confined to messaging between mainframes and/or minicomputers over phone lines at speeds like 30 characters per second. Only large organizations could afford the technologies. Broadband networks essentially did not exist, certainly at the national level, except possibly for very large high tech organizations. Therefore my emphasis in those early years was on assessing telecommuting because that’s where the greatest near-term impact would be: reducing energy use and pollution impacts from the numbers of cars involved in the daily commutes between homes and workplaces. Even then, with what we would now call primitive technologies, telecommuting was demonstrably effective.
Today the underlying technologies have morphed though many generations of improvement, to the extent that extremely powerful information processing and communications capabilities are quite inexpensive in the developed world and also are becoming so in emerging economies. So let’s see how those developments have changed the situation.
Continue reading Definitions revisited