Why do we GO to work?

January 8, 2008 at 12:46 pm 5 comments

One of our local newspapers recently ran a series of articles on the phenomenon of ‘commuting’ and how some people spend 3-5 hours of their day travelling to and from ‘work’. While the focus of the series was mostly the ‘human interest’ angle the question that kept intruding into my thoughts was ‘Why?’… Why are we still flowing into small geographical areas in the morning and then flowing out to find our beds in the evening? An alien looking down from on high would be very curious as to the our reasons for the daily migration

Thankfully, I no longer work in a corporate cubical, but I have taken the time to reflect on what I used to do day in and day out, and as a white collar worker there was VERY little I did, that I could not do from a desk located on the other side of the city – if not the other side of the world. This was true as a regular grunt in the organization and as a high mucky muck.

As a white collar worker – I moved nothing from one location to another, I did not physically manipulate the world, I really had no good, persistent reason to physically travel from my home to the ‘office’ on a daily basis.

This is driven home today where my reality is that as long as there is electrical power and internet access, my office is wherever I, and my trusty laptop, are ensconced.

While I’m a card carrying techno geek, I’m not one of those who believe that all meetings are replaceable by ‘virtual meetings’ – that wouldn’t be much fun – I speak for a living – there is something about sitting across the table from someone that pixels on a screen cannot replace. More is communicated in a handshake (or a hug) than is possible to transmit on a 50gb optical cable. That said, It is possible to shift all those types of meetings to a single day each week, allowing most people to remain at home, in a properly equipped office, most of the time.

As I’ve discussed the topic of telecommuting with people over the years, the #1 objection/fear that I’ve heard (the one that is the real reason IMO that Telecommuting hasn’t taken off) is that we don’t trust our employees to produce if we aren’t looking over their shoulders all the time. That’s it in a nutshell. We don’t trust either our employees to produce at a distance OR we don’t believe our managers are competent enough to manage remotely.

There’s an irony here – and that is that management usually lets people work entirely on their own for weeks at a time. All too often managers have admitted to me that they don’t have regular 1-on-1 meetings with their staff… in fact they rarely meet with their staff.

Sometimes other reasons for not moving into telecommuting are raised, cost, security, privacy, etc. but there are more ‘excuses’ than they are legitimate objections. Many of these, possibly all of these, are solved via technology.

And then there’s another irony in the resistance towards telecommuting… any time we ‘outsource’ something – not to mention ‘offshore outsourcing’ then we are making a decision to do the work generated at this location in a remote location… ‘outsourcing’ is nothing but telecommuting on a grand scale.

So? Why the post? I’d like to ask two sets of questions…

1) What is it that you do at the office that you cannot do at home? Assume you have access to power, internet and a phone at home.
What % of your time in the office are you engaged in that activity?

2) Has your organization even considered the possibility of telecommuting?
If you have… what’s the status of that thinking?

Contribute if you wish, either in the comments (preferred) or off line (happy to start a few conversations – Pdejager@technobility.com)

I’ll assume that the benefits of Telecommuting are well known… let me know if listing a few would add value to the conversation.


Entry filed under: Change, Change Management, Communicating, Communications, Future, innovation, Life Balance, Management, Managing, People Sklls, Technology, Time Management.

Capability in Context Six Billion Nation States

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Craig Price  |  January 9, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    There is a lot of benefit from telecommuting (I personally love it) but this article http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/010908-teleworkers-damage-work-environment.html brings up some valid points on some issues with it.

    One of the main factors is our society is withdrawing from itself. We call people HOPING to get their voicemail. We text people so we don’t have to talk to them. Social interaction is a key to business and I think we forget that aspect as we attempt to streamline and become more “efficient”. A company full of isolated workers turns us from humans into worker bees.

    Just shedding some light to the other side of the issue.


  • 2. technobility  |  January 10, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Hi Craig – thanks for the input.

    Telecommuting doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition, Reducing the on site workweek to 2 days out of 7 would suffice.

    Once Oil becomes a real, visible issue… $10/gallon? THEN we might have the will to change what is essentially nothing more than an ingrained habit.

    Imagine a world where weekly traffic is reduced by 50% – imagine how much our our lives we’d free up by not having to commute everyday – we might spend that newly recovered resource snug in bed – but that would be okay since we’re all sleep deprived as it is.

    Have fun
    Enjoy the day

  • 3. Dunrie Greiling  |  January 10, 2008 at 10:25 am

    I have worked quite effectively with folks who telecommute, so I hold no judgment against the practice. We currently have folks working for us that we see only infrequently, and it works just fine. I have seen, however, some of the more spectacular work failures happen when folks are isolated, so it seems necessary to put in some good communication rituals to keep geographically isolated folks from being left out of the tide of informal communications that are critical to working on a team.

    I also think that my particular job (project manager) is so collaborative and so dependent on sensing things outside of “formal” communications that it would be impossible for me to do my particular role effectively from afar. I also have to say that my particular personality means I’m more productive when stimulated by/interacting with others, so it is no accident that my personality and my job role have similar needs.

    However, I’ve been quite careful about choosing my workplace, and I have the good fortune of being able to walk to work, so I don’t know how I would tolerate a long, traffic choked commute.

  • 4. technobility  |  January 10, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Dunrie? Thanks for the feedback. I particularly like the use of the term ‘rituals’ rather than ‘processes’. It speaks to the fact that we are creatures of natural habits. You could have used the word ‘process’ but that smacks too much of externally enforced/imposed behaviours.

    I’m struck with how often ‘water cooler’ and ‘office copier’ meetings are raised when people speak about their need to interact. Your term ‘ritual’ applies to those yearnings more than would the term ‘process’.

    Thanks… you’ve added to my thoughts.

  • 5. Sofia Pellegrini  |  June 10, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I brought up telecommuting at a company meeting last month. It was met with defeaning silence. Later, I was called into my manager’s office and told in so many words that my idea came across to others (my manager couldn’t own this opinion herself) as naive and demonstrated a lack cognizance/understanding that the company (EDS) values the “synergy” that coming to the workplace provides. Now, does that mean that company policies should never change? My, wasn’t I stupid! When I told my co-workers that I was going to bring up telecommuting at a meeting, and would anyone like to back me up (?), my cubicle-row mate followed me to my desk to tell me how inappropriate it was to talk about, and that she didn’t appreciate being “coerced” into supporting something like this because she has “a mortgage to pay.” Her last words to me were (I kid you not) “You have to respect my fear!” My next step? I emailed my statement to Dan Esty, the author of “From Green to Gold”. He’s scheduled to speak to our company headquarters on Wednesday June 11, 2008. If you’re interested, here’s what I wrote:



    There are global and national trends happening today that are affecting us personally. These include environmental concerns, financial concerns brought on by the credit crisis, the rise in fuel prices, the beginning of the end – of oil availability, and quality of life issues that begin with economic hardship and end possibly, with hardships we can’t even imagine today. The time has never been more right for EDS to aggressively encourage telecommuting.

    From a “green” standpoint, keeping more employees off the roads reduces fossil fuel use, slows carbon emissions, and reduces congestion and wear on over-used commuter highway systems.

    From a financial standpoint, it would reduce the huge and growing amount of money employees are paying right out of pocket for gas. My husband and I spent $600.00 on gas last month, and anticipate spending more as time wears on. That will be $7,000 to $10,000 dollars per year. There will come a time where we will not be able to afford our commuter jobs. I won’t speak for anyone else, but for the money I could save not commuting, I would be willing to take smaller raises or work for less compensation. If telecommuting were aggressively encouraged, it would be possible to retain skilled resources in-country for less money. In an era where local economies will need to be revitalized, this is important. Savings in overhead costs for EDS/HP could potentially be huge in terms of payroll and overhead costs of maintaining large facilities. Finally, EDS/HP could legitimately prove grounds for earning carbon credits in an economy that will, sooner or later, demand that carbon emissions be accounted for.

    From a quality of life standpoint, the long term effects are beyond valuation. Long term effects are nothing short of preserving human health and the health of our environment as a whole. The short term effects include increasing employees’ available income, and increasing employees’ available time. More available income and time reduce stress caused by the need to juggle work with health and family obligations, reduce financial stress, and as a result increase employee morale, productivity and loyalty.

    My co-workers have asked for telecommuting “privileges” before, and have met with strong resistance. The company feels that an important “synergy” would be lost if telecommuting were supported. Many of us feel, however, that in a climate where our technical jobs are being reduced in-country and outsourced oversees, that this argument no longer has value. It is clear that the “bottom line” trumps in-person synergy. Why not bring the “bottom line” home and support our economy right here?

    What can we do to get our leaders on board? More than that, what can we do to get them on board faster? I think it’s wonderful that EDS is hosting this meeting, and I hope that our leadership will take this opportunity to embrace the policies of the future, now.

    I know many people support this idea, but won’t you do so actively? Also, no one at my work will stand with me. I feel very alone. Are we the kind of Americans who started the American revolution, or are we the kind of Americans the founding fathers would be ashamed of, for our lack of courage?


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