July 15, 2011
Ruth on the Future of Telecommuting
Stephen Ruth (GMU - Public Policy) has just posted on SSRN his chapter (the future book is not indicated) The Dark Side of Telecommuting - Is a Tipping Point Approaching?. Here's the abstract:
This chapter proposes a cautionary view of the potential challenges that would arise if telecommuting implementation increases significantly beyond its present, popular, highly successful baseline. Current telecommuters are the cream of the crop—mature, carefully trained, and mostly from significantly higher-than-average income and education levels. But as more persons are added in telecommuting plans, there may be serious problems. Several of the challenges associated with greater telecommuting participation are described: difficulties in assessing current telecommuting demographics, problems in the evaluation of productivity, the dilemma of determining verifiable costs and benefits, the drawbacks and distractions in home-siting of telework as the levels of education and experience decrease, the imbalance of broadband service, especially for the poor, and the reluctance of some organizations to take advantage regional telecenters.
This is an interesting read. Despite the title, it's not a horror story -- it's a thoughtful explanation of how telecommuting may change many aspects of worklife in the future, and on some of the practical limits of telecommuting. For example:
First, there would be dislocation. An employer would not be very wise to preserve a good permanent office for an employee who is using it only sporadically. So hoteling, which has been around for decades, will begin to be used by average companies and agencies, not just the Fortune 100.... Also, unions and other employee rights organizations will begin to become involved in telecommuting decisions Second, there may be some productivity anomalies. If a person is significantly more successful on a work unit basis while telecommuting, what behaviors can be expected when she or he is back at the office?... Third, there may be a need for an intermediate location for telecommuting due to security problems. No matter how skillful the organization’s tech staff may be, it will more difficult to replicate the secure, sabotage-proof hardware software/software suite available at the primary location in the home computer or the nomadic device. Many of those who have been working at home will need to migrate to the robust, comfortable confines of a telecenter, where it’s easier to replicate the full security protocols that are needed.
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