Almost twenty years ago I wrote a page on the JALA website about the impacts of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Yet terrorism is just one of many sources of disaster that telework could have subdued.
Twenty years later my message is the same as it was then. The difference is that not much happened after that first message while plenty happened after the recent — and continuing — pandemic disaster. It clearly took something greater than the mere destruction of the twin towers in order to get the world’s attention. Telework is clearly a solution, at least in part, to many types of disaster.
We now have much greater set of impending disasters, that of climate change, that threaten to uproot many of our fondest customs and practices, even our lives. Telework is likely to be an element of the means for averting that threat.
Better late than never?
Now versus then
The technology supporting telework today is far more effective than it was in 2001. Videoconferencing is now almost ubiquitous and increasing in flexibility. The internet has expanded worldwide, allowing people to interact with each other independently of where they are. The span of an internet-connected individual’s access to information has expanded enormously.
Consequently, a substantial fraction of the world’s information workers has found that they are truly location-independent much the time. Yet most need some face-to-face interaction with colleagues and clients at least some of the time. We are now in a transition period where each organization is trying to sort out the arrangements that work the best for all concerned.
Part of that sorting out is focused on what used to be called “the office.” Where is it? What does it look like? How big is it? What facilities does it offer that are not available to most of the staff? Who is in charge of keeping it running well? What are its hours of operation? How flexible is its scheduling? How many of such facilities do we need? All these and related issues may be the subject of experiment and testing over the next few months.
But one key issue remains: Do we still need large buildings, potential targets, to house thousands of office workers on a daily basis?
Back to the drawing board in remembrance of 9/11. We still have time.