Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet

AT&T, Sprint, Verizon: they all talk about "Now headquarters is wherever YOU are." They show the busy business people on the bus, at the golf course, in the airport, at the restaurant - all around the world, spreading the word - getting business done by laptop, mobile device and brain implant transponder.

But still - telecommuting is slow to take off. Why? Lots of reasons, but the biggest I suspect, is trust. Or rather, distrust. If your colleagues can't see you, they assume you're goofing off. Well, at least the dishonest ones assume that - because that's what they'd do if they worked from home.

I worked well from home when it was an option. Not so well on a mobile device or from the golf course (never touched a club in my life) but as long as I've got my high-speed connection here at the casa or on my laptop, what's it matter where I am? I can shoot an email to you just as fast from here as if I were down the hall in a cubicle. Sure, we can't have a face-to-face brainstorming session, but you drink your coffee, I'll load up here, then we can get on the phone and toss some ideas back and forth. If we really got smart and invested a couple hundred bucks, we could set up cameras, then you could watch me and make sure I'm working, or we could have that face-to-face brainstorming session via cable. We can put on the headsets and talk over Skype. Without a commute, my workday started at 7 AM. I can put in more hours at home than I can in an office. And I'll be honest; in those hours I might climb on my bike and take a couple mile journey just to get out and clear my head. But how is that any different than taking my lunch break to work out in the company gym? Did I meet my deadlines? Was the client happy? So, what's your problem?

The cubicle was meant for animals. It’s a kennel. The cubicle was meant for robots and slaves.

Who is the evil genius responsible for this design and who are the salesmen who sold it? Who are the corporate heads that bought into it and why are they still in power? When we find these people, we need to send them off to some sort of camp, along with the purveyors of florescent lights, the builders of time clocks and sellers of the software that does the job of a time clock. Let's also get the people who invented the magnetic company badge that opens the door to your highly classified workplace. We'll put them all out in the middle of nowhere where they won’t disable the creativity of the American worker anymore. Put them in cubicles with fluorescent lighting and make them clock out when they want a drink or a smoke or they need to take a leak. Treat them like animals, cattle, robots. Give them “benefits” that they can’t walk away from. Health, dental, 401K.

Employers can’t trust their cattle to work from home.The employer and manager require dictatorial control and micromanaging of tasks. They need to have meetings about meetings in preparation for the meeting, where they will present a Powerpoint deck about the upcoming meeting. They want dress codes and time clocks. A few have started what they think is a revolution: they've set up teepees and canoes in which they hold meetings. Or maybe they call them pow-wows. Quaint. Cute.

How to sell this notion of telecommuting to the powers that be? Here's something they can understand: drag into this conversation America's favorite worry-du-jour: Global warming. Let's make all these talkers and squawkers prove they really care. Employers could save millions on scaling down their office space, taking advantage of the technology that is available to them right now. We can give employers willing to take part in a telecommuting plan special government incentives, as they will also be contributing to a national traffic solution and "keeping our planet clean for the children of the future." (Choke back the tears, corporate spokeswoman.) Traffic is out of hand in most American cities, and most of it is due to throngs of office workers reporting for cattle call. Gas prices, carbon emissions, etc, etc.

Employers are always dreaming up new ways to make their employees happier. So they invest thousands in the company gym that no one uses, or they offer you Snapple, foosball, corporate daycare and ergonomic keyboards. Save the money. Let your people work from home. That would make many of them happy, and likely more productive. Here's a neat benefit: no more sick days. Unless someone's dying, they can get their ass out of bed and over to the computer to make sure the report they promised by 11:00 AM is where it needs to be.

Many jobs just can't be done remotely - retail, factory, education - but millions can. And while some people enjoy the social environment and interaction of an office, many of us don't. For those who don't, options are available now that would enable us to produce quality work, no matter where we are. Just ask AT&T, Sprint or Verizon.

But it's not going to be a reality anytime soon. You just can't be trusted to do your job out of sight of your corporate masters.

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  • Try blogging and editing video while driving through downtown Washington, DC.


    At home though, HOORAY Snapple!

    By Blogger Make the logo bigger, at July 29, 2007 at 4:17 PM  

  • A lot of what you say is true JetPack (although you are starting to sound like one of those hippies who protest Starbucks during "anti-globalization rallies!)

    But there's another reason I think people like going to the office: they like compartmentalzing their lives. It's hard to work at home with kids and pets and spouses and non-working neighbors and the like. Go to the office and you have the semblance of an adutl life. Constant companionship. And a place where you can focus on work.

    We're creative types. I get very little done at the office, far more done at home on the laptop at night. But we're not the usual suspects. And those people get a lot more done at the office and really like the fact that they walk out of the cubicle and work is over.

    By Blogger Toad, at July 29, 2007 at 10:23 PM  

  • Toad: I have never been to an anti-Starbuck's rally - and no photographic evidence exists to the contrary.

    You're right; as creatives we don't work the typical routine and an idea for a project can hit you stirring spaghetti easier than it might sitting in your cube staring at a screen.

    So, we can start with creatives. Advertising agencies can lead the way in the telecommuting revolution, under the guise of creating a cleaner environment.

    By Blogger Jetpacks, at July 29, 2007 at 10:28 PM  

  • an idea for a project can hit you stirring spaghetti easier than it might sitting in your cube staring at a screen.

    I wish someone would tell that to *my* boss.

    I think taking away the cubicles or at least adding windows would be a step in the right direction.

    My sister is in accounting and in the winter she never sees the sun unless she can take a lunch break outside.

    By Blogger Thinking In Vain, at July 30, 2007 at 8:24 AM  

  • I agree with a lot of what you said. A lot of my job could be done from home without a problem but the company doesn't trust anyone. No one here gets to work remotely. If you're getting the work done, shouldn't matter where you are. Check this guy out:

    One of my friends worked from home for years, going into her office once a week. She now has a new job and loves going into the office. For a lot of folks, myself included, it's the camaraderie of coworkers. I like seeing people and interacting with them. I wouldn't have a connection with my coworkers if I was home most of the time

    By Blogger vivzan, at July 30, 2007 at 11:29 AM  

  • This has the makings of a manifesto. Definitely one I could subscribe to.

    Susan at Working Moms Against Guilt

    By Blogger Susan, at July 30, 2007 at 11:30 AM  

  • Susan:

    You will need a beret.

    There's also the minor requirement that you sell your home and give me the proceeds.

    Seriously, I guess it does come across as a little "Screw The Man" in its vitriol, but all I'm really asking for is a little trust for those of us who want to experiment with this model. We know who signs the paychecks, and we aren't about to jeopardize our livelihoods by taking advantage of such a benefit. If anything, those who desire this situation become better workers.

    And besides...the Earth needs our help! (sniff sniff)

    By Blogger Jetpacks, at July 30, 2007 at 11:54 AM  

  • You're right on with the spaghetti example for creative types, who are always trying to solve the assignment at one level or another of the continuum of consciousness. True, there are times for brainstorming face-to-face, but in my experience, there needs to be solitude at some point, too. The weird thing is, some agencies, big monolithic bureaucracies especially, don't really seem to want the creatives in the office, where they might leave a bad impression on the golf-happy clients. You'd think management would jump at the chance to keep the eccentrics offsite.

    By Anonymous ouia repairman, at July 30, 2007 at 11:27 PM  

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