Well, it has been an interesting year, in the sense of the old Chinese curse: You shall live in interesting times. Here are some year end thoughts regarding telework’s future.
First, this year has demonstrated that many carefully thought out plans have gone awry. Seriously! Brexit, Trumpism, Syria, China’s economy, Russian autocracy to name a few. The global master plan seems to be chaos. Now, all of the aforesaid are geopolitical in their nature. What do they have to do with telework?
Brexit may act to increase the frequency and breadth of teleworking as companies and other organizations try to cope with operating across more explicit boundaries without forcing large numbers of their employees to relocate. Of course, this sort of situation was what inspired telework in the first place — in the 1970s. So look for an uptick in teleworking in 2017 across western Europe.
Trump, et al, well, who knows what’s going to happen there? Pressure to reduce the power of the Environmental Protection Agency and its focus on climate change could similarly reduce environmental pressures for increasing telecommuting. On the other hand, the Trumpian emphasis on bringing business back to America could act to increase international telework and local telecommuting as well. Focus on improving the nation’s infrastructure, particularly broadband telecommunications, could accelerate the move toward more telework — unless a similar move by the new, Republican-dominated FCC to void network neutrality acts to squash teleworking. It’s a tossup for teleworking in the near term but a possible boost in the longer term.
The middle east in general, and Syria in particular, constitute a multilayered dilemma. First, the telecommunications infrastructure, except for Israel, is well below that of the west. Yet it does exist and is certainly being used by millennials. As evidence of that I get e-messages about teleworking from young people in the region. So teleworking may be on the rise there as well, regardless of infrastructure limitations.
China is ripe for more teleworking, for several reasons. China wants to expand its level of technology more broadly through the country. Air pollution is a serious challenge, particularly in the Northeast. A large and growing percentage of the population is internet-active and looking for more opportunity. China is still emphasizing economic growth while trying to minimize its environmental impact. All of these trends are fundamental to increased teleworking.
Russia clearly has an interest in teleworking, although it manifests itself mostly in hacking American democratic processes. Would that that energy be applied to more generally productive uses.
As another Chinese proverb states: In confusion there is opportunity. For all the toing and froing and apparent chaos of the world today there seems to be ample opportunity for telework to ease stress, increase opportunities and reduce our impact on the environment.
I can hardly wait.