Pursuing the Tele-Commuter Mindset!

Are our Organizations Computerized or Virtualized?

A number of months ago I approached the Minnesota American Institute of Architects to see if they would be interested in a discussion about how strategic telework would change the work environment and perhaps the cityscape itself. It was positioned as a presentation of the tools and strategies that would help their clients prepare for the Information Age. To my surprise, an architect said: ‘we all have computers so we are already in the Information Age’. This contrasts significantly with my view and caused me to reflect:

1. In the 1980’s AT&T ran numerous ads celebrating the potential of being able to “Access anything, from anywhere, at any time”. With broadband and the Internet we may be getting close, but are we really there? Do we have the applications that would allow us to live anywhere and still be able to perform our jobs through telework, to access health care through home-based telemedicine, and to stay current with on-line training, and so much more? Collectively we call these apps the Suite of Telecommuting Applications®. Until the applications are comprehensively deployed, I submit that we are not yet in the Information Age. What do you think?
2. Also in the 80’s computers were centralized, today they are not. Enabled by technology, will society also decentralize to pursue their specific quality of life? Will society embrace the freedom of residential location that is enabled by a comprehensive approach to the deployment of the entire Suite of Telecommuting Applications? For fifty years Gallup Polls have indicated that many would rather live in a location other than where they currently live. What happens if they do? Will our public, private and community policies allow this concept to become a core element in economic competitiveness, community development and environmental preservation?

The Dallas MPO’s transportation newsletter is called Mobility Matters; and mobility does matter; but today, in addition to physical mobility, we need to adopt virtual mobility. E-banking and e-commerce have shown what can be done. Can we apply the attributes of technology to finally reap the benefits of the Information Age? I think it begins with the strategic deployment of telework, what about you?

So, welcome to my first blog post, I look forward to great discussions!

John Sanger is founder and President of Tele-Commuter Resources, a MN non-profit, applied research, organization. It’s mission is best described by the Distributed City Model which was developed by asking communities “What must we do to thrive in the Information Age?” Ubiquitous telework is the key; an adoption of a Telecommuting Mindset is fundamental. TCR’s TeleWork Deployment Program and its Regional Telecommuting Action Plan are strategic tools for employers and regions. Adopting the Telecommuting Mindset® seeks parity of physical and electronic access whenever applicable. It is the policy vision.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Like many things we take for granted today, having workers gather at a central point was a product of the industrial age. Before the steam engine, people worked in their homes and crafted items that they sold themselves or were collected by a boss who paid for the piecework. Factories were created because the machines were powered by a drive shaft that came from the steam engine. Workers had to come to the machines because it was impossible for the machines to come to the workers.

In the information age, technology is easily distributed and one can even run virtual factories through “Fab” technology. Having workers gather at a central point is an artifact of the Industrial Age like the hierarchical organization, functional silos, and time zones. We should still gather for building social ties and trust but the bulk of our work can easily be done at home. It’s time to stop using solutions that made sense in a different time.

John Sanger

Right on Bill- For your consideration, let me submit that the social issue is two sided, first, you need a strong team to get the work done and there are many ways to do that more effectively than having everyone show up every day. Second, community organizations need to tap into the telework world. When the on-site worker gets home, they do not want to do much but “veg”, the teleworker has been on task all day and wants social engagement. It might be interesting to see what would happen if teleworkers were invited to re-engage in our schools and other organizations. Obviously this will evolve when we achieve a critical mass of strategically deployed workers. Maybe our social needs can be met outside of the employers offices…

Henry Brown

@ John:

Have been a “serious” teleworker for over 15 years now, where my office/supervisor has been over 500 miles away, and, although I can’t/won’t begin to speak for others, I found that my need for social engagement was met, in a large part, by my engaging with the local senior center and sharing my skills and knowledge with that rather diverse community.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Your line of thinking, @John, really gets my synapses firing…some ideas:

@Bill – Have you heard of Frank Feather? He’s a futurist who espouses the notion you suggest below – that what we are experiencing right now is a profound reversal of the Industrial Revolution. Whereas factory jobs took people away from their artisan shops to work in cities – moving from customized low-scale production to mass production – we now have the ability to return to our homes to perform our work functions, especially the knowledge-based jobs. I’d love to see some data from OPM on the number of jobs in government that would be considered “knowledge-based” such that people could perform them from anywhere.

@John – What do you think about the term “tele-community” – a variation of tele-commuting that essentially gives us new language to speak about what telework does for our communities? It helps people to see that we aren’t isolated when we work from home; rather, we are able to be more present in our communities. In particular, what if we transformed our local libraries or community centers to serve as “Tele-Community Centers” where citizens in small towns / suburbs / rural areas no longer needed to commute for hours…I think there’s some precedent for this already with co-_______ (can’t remember the exact name, but the concept originated in San Francisco, I believe).

@All – on the state/local level, I wonder what would happen to the perception of government employees if they were working hard side-by-side in these “tele-community centers” with their neighbors…being seen as productive in their public service roles…

Very thought-provoking, John…

John Sanger

Great responses Andy, and you lead me to the broader concept of our Distributed City Model that addresses a new definition of community within a regional context. I will discuss this in the next blog post. Terminology is important, to me Community is the integration of its parts and anything that segmentizes it, diminishes it. To me teleworkers are just residents in their local community that hopefully are more involved. When telework is done strategically, (we deploy various percentages of each occupation based upon a plan) practioners better understand the level of flexibility they have and can more easily choose to live where they want. When you properly assess each occupation and collectively code them for statistical analysis you can begin to understand the overall impact on your agency, department and the region- but this too should be another blog. When you select the right employees consistent with the Deployment Plan, everyone wins.

As for the perception of government employees working off-site, it goes back to marketing. Telework is about saving money. If you publish your plan and work the plan, you should reduce your costs. More importantly, with some flexibility, you can also expand government service hours. Some teleworkers can start earlier, others later, some can cover Saturdays and overall expand service delivery while cutting costs. Which taxpayer would not like to see better service for less money? But it does take a plan…