Are the telework, telecommuting guys way behind the curve?

I have the feeling, but admittedly in some ignorance. . .  that the telework, telecommuting guys may be way behind the curve. That is, quite possibly not quite up to the challenge of the times.

Proof of that would lie in the following:

1.     Have the promoters of telework, telecommuting, distance work, etc.  succeeded over the last couple of decades of making telemobility into something that really has a critical place in the mobility mix of a substantial portion of the population of any country?

2.     How different are their recommendations and tools they are talking about and pushing today, from the mix of say a decade ago?

3.     And if there is a tool gap, a strategy gap, what should we or others be doing to remedy it so as to bring us up to the highest 21st century level of competence — because we all do know that there is a real job to be done here.

Not to be rude. Just asking. And hoping to be surprised.

From Paris and teleworking today, yesterday and tomorrow, but feeling in my gut that I too should be doing better.

Eric Britton
Editor, World Streets

Frère Jacques, frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Din, dan, don. Din, dan, don

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8 thoughts on “Are the telework, telecommuting guys way behind the curve?

  1. Hi Eric,
    Interesting questions indeed. Here’s my opinion. For 1) I’d say over the last decade, the success rate has been slow. However, there has been some serious progress over the last couple of years.

    If you look at what’s happening in the US, President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act into law in December 2010, allowing federal employees to work from home 20% of the time. As I understand it, this was borne mostly out of continuity of operations concerns e.g. the snowstorms of January 2010 stopped a lot of federal employees making it to work. Globally telework is growing at a rate of 9% per annum so it’s getting there.

    On the downside, there are as many reasons why Teleworking isn’t adopted as there are benefits to it. Some of the reasons are cultural, some are about perception and control and some are purely about trust.

    On the tools side, I think you are largely correct. To me it seems like all the discussions have been around tools which “enable” teleworking such as phone and communications systems, extending corporate networks to the home, security etc. It has not been around the real issues such as how to manage remote workers on a daily basis, how to do management appraisals, provide feedback on performance, deal with time and attendance, deal with globally dispersed teams. Disclaimer : this is what we provide in RWorks.com.

    In terms of strategy, I think this is really missing. It would be great to see an organisation set up whose job it is to promote teleworking on a world-wide basis but which also specifically addresses the cultural issues in each country. Such an organisation could act as a resource centre which would illustrate how different countries could tackle teleworking and provide national strategies for how to roll it out.

    Tony Redmond

    Reply
  2. Hi, Eric:

    What curve is that, that they/we are behind?

    Re # 1: I don’t know how you would judge success or failure in this dimension, but in the U.S. when local agencies work on “air pollution control” issues they normally include telecommuting as one of many supported strategies.

    Re # 2: Telecommuting tools tend to keep pace with other communications technologies (see Advisory # 23), but technology is not necessary for telecommuting. You might as well ask “How different are their recommendations and tools they are talking about and pushing today, from the mix of say a decade ago?” with respect to walking, writing, reading, or thinking.

    Re # 3: I don’t think there is a critical difference in 2011. Telecommuting is an advantageous strategy, has been since the 50s, 60s, and 70s (when I started working this way), and is today. The main difference is its widespread acceptance as normal, and growing wider with every passing year as the old-school decision-makers die off.

    Sorry if I don’t subscribe to your assumptions, but I’m not forcing any of this information on you, Eric. If you feel it doesn’t fit, or isn’t relevant, or is too “old hat” or out of sync with the times, I respect your judgment, as always.

    Robert

    The American Telecommuting Association
    1220 L Street NW, Suite 100
    Washington, DC 20005

    Reply
  3. In Italy telework has to overcome some cultural and managing hurdles that can be summarized in the unions’ suspiciousness about spreading the workers far apart from each other and in the social functions of every kind of job that could be seriously injured by traditional telework.
    Maybe telework in Italy is more likely to be successful in a coworking setting that can address at least telework isolation’s issues
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coworking

    Reply
  4. An article on the front page of today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution discusses new data on commuting activity as part of a “Regional Commuter Survey” conducted last fall by the Center for Transportation and the Environment on behalf of the Georgia Department of Transportation:

    http://www.ajc.com/business/telecommuting-now-metro-areas-850677.html

    Among the key findings: Commuters in Atlanta are teleworking more, taking transit more and diving alone less.
    (The 4,000 survey respondents were all employed commuters, so unemployment does not factor into this)
    18% (~400K) Atlanta commuters are now using alternatives 3+ days per week (up from 15% in ’07).
    Of those:
     40% telework (up from 30% in ’07)
     30% carpool or vanpool (down from 43% in ’07)
     28% ride transit (up from 23% in ’07)
     2% bike/walk

    Telework has emerged as the primary commute option among all Atlanta commuters using alt modes
     The percentage of frequent teleworkers (3+ days/week) has increased by 75% since 2007.( 7% of all commuters now telework at least three days a week, compared to 4% in 2007)
     600K commuters telework at least occasionally, and another 260K+ commuters could and would telework if their employers allowed it.

    Are other regions seeing growth in telework mode share?

    Kevin Green
    Executive Director
    The Clean Air Campaign
    55 Park Place, Suite 250
    Atlanta, GA 30303
    678-244-7707

    Reply
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  6. I am glad you focused on the elephant in the room and offer you a few new insights that might help show teleworkers are not the folks behind the curve. Have a look at this recent Canadian study done in Calgary that we summarized recently on Koffee Koans. http://koffeekoans.com/2011/05/17/calgary-telecommute-thinking-forward-for-canadians/
    In addition to savings of 53 billion per year the study found that several case studies where telecommuters were enjoying integrated benefits that certainly did not leave them behind the curve.
    I hope you have a chance to also check out http://koffeekoans.com/2011/06/21/telework-and-telepresence/ which includes a clip from the New York Times showing how American innovators are working to move new technology into the workplace to overcome the water cooler challenges of telework.
    You will also find a summary of Obama’s US Telework Act at http://koffeekoans.com/2011/06/15/the-us-telework-act-summarized/ which shows how engaged the current American administration is in adopting this framework.
    It can be hard to live on the cutting edge of change. But I think you are in a good place and hope that these articles show you that the world has changed and is continuing to change in this area.

    Best regards
    David Pederson

    Reply

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