Telework in a time of disasters

For years I have been urging organizations to adopt telework if only as a quick response in times of disaster. Now we are in time of two major disasters: one a pandemic, the other an unwarranted invasion. The first disaster provoked a massive increase in teleworking globally. The second disaster may provoke a new form of teleworking: a teleinsurgency.

Disaster 1: Covid

The pandemic disaster caused by the Covid-19 virus and its offshoots clearly has been the stick that got the World’s attention. Almost overnight telework evolved from something useful to a relatively small number of organizations to a necessity for any organization that employed information workers. Within a few weeks or months most were able to transform their workforces from location-dependence (they needed central offices to do their work) to location-independence (they could work anywhere, anytime). Consequently their organizations hardly missed a beat; they are able to work as well now as in the pre-Covid days.

As Covid declines in its threats many of these instant teleworkers are reluctant to go back to the work-ways of the previous century. Except occasionally for face-to-face meetings. As one side effect of this, on commercial real estate, central office building space is going begging while demand for regional and neighborhood office space is growing. As another side effect, there is a trend to move from dense, expensive cities to smaller communities with lower housing costs (even with built-in home office space) for growing teleworker families.

Conclusion: widespread teleworking is here to stay, covering the spectrum from full-time-at-home to various forms of part-time (hybrid) teleworking including regional or neighborhood offices like those of our original tests iin 1973-1974.

Disaster 2: Ukraine

The sudden invasion of the sovereign nation Ukraine by authoritarian Russia is causing another possible variant of telework: teleinsurgency. As I write this, in the early days of Putin’s invasion, the Ukrainian military is holding fast despite being faced with almost 200,000 Russian troops. Ukraine is roughly the size of Texas and has 44 million citizens, most of whom support democracy and oppose the Putin (ala Ivan the Terrible) autocratic brand of government.

If the Russians prevail over the less numerous and less well equipped Ukrainian forces the chances are high that Ukraine will then become a country with a Putin-imposed puppet government trying to fend off a widespread teleinsurgency. History has shown that an organized insurgency is quite capable of overthrowing a government. Putin’s version of government is decidedly unpopuar in Ukraine. Contemporary technology allows a dispersed set of combatants to plan in a detailed, coordinated way, attack military objectives then fade away untraceably; just another day at the remote offices.

Technology infrastructure

Successful teleworking and teleinsurgency depends on the availability of broadband telecommunications and computer technologies just as traditional working depends on a suitable transportation infrastructure. It is important to maintain that infrastructure at all levels to ensure the success of both. In the case of teleworking the infrastructure exists and is readily supported.

In the case of teleinsurgency the situation may be different: the enemy may try to destroy or disable the infrastructure. Consequently it’s important to ensure that alternative, flexible communications technologies, such as mesh networking, are available to the teleinsurgents. Even more emphasis should be placed on encrypted communications. Satellite networks, such as Tesla’s Starlink service may be another of the options if normal internet traffic is disrupted.

Either way, telework becomes a very useful tool for success.

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