Thursday, May 08, 2014

In the eye of the beholder

In the current New Yorker, Jill Lepore discusses books that ponder the evolution of work spaces, "Away from my desk ... The office from beginning to end." Our work habits, the demands of work, lifestyles, and our gadgets all change. Their evolutions are obviously linked. So what happens?
Leisure may be over, but that’s only because when your office is a cloud it follows you everywhere. The arrangement that began in the nineteenth-century factory and lived on through the twentieth-century office may end soon; if so, the two-century-long separation of home and work will turn out to have been a historical anomaly. Work will no longer be a place, and home no longer an escape.
I'm not sure about her last sentence. Most work involves collaborations of one sort or another. The networking choices available to us are more varied and better than ever. Many of us get to pick a convenient mix of networks to tap into. We also choose the places from which to network. These can be home, office or the growing number of "third places" our mobile devices take us to. As they say, "substitutes everywhere." And whether a substitute is a "good" one or a "bad" one remains in the eye of the beholder

The State of Telework in the U.S. (by Kate Lister and Tam Hamish) discusses the ACS commuting and telecommuting data available to them. They mention that 45% of the U.S. workforce has jobs "compatible with at least part-time telework." But in 2009, they reported just 2.9 million telecommuters. Studying the largest MSAs, they found "no positive correlation between cities with the worst congestion or longest round-trip commutes and the extent of telework."

Perhaps it's early in the game. I am reminded of opponents of road tolls objecting that most U.S. commuters had too few choices to make tolling practical. They usually meant inadequate transit service. But "telework" is a more serious option for many of us. And, as Lepore shows, it is part of an evolution that is still unfolding.