Years ago I read the book The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler. Toffler discusses the progress of civilization. He notes that the first wave was the Agricultural Revolution: humans evolved from being primarily hunter-gathers to planters and domesticators of animals. People during that “wave” mostly lived adjacent to where they worked. The second wave was the Industrial Revolution: humans migrated to cities and manufactured goods. Life became more complex. People often had to travel miles to do their work.
The Third Wave is the Information Age: people are transitioning from primarily manufacturing goods to providing services. Much of what they do involves the exchanging of information. (Interestingly, when The Third Wave was first published, personal computers were about five years away.) And Toffler posited that most people in the Information Age would be working at home or relatively nearby. (Or that’s how I recall it.)
I read The Third Wave when I just started out as a member of the workforce, and now I’m nearing the end of my employable years. All this time I’ve been waiting for Toffler’s prediction to come true. Since I moved to Los Angeles in 1977, I’ve had jobs that involved commutes of a half hour, 45 minutes, an hour, and 90 minutes. During most of this time, I could have done much of my work in either my bachelor apartment or the home I share with my family. Yet it is only now as I get closer to the end of my career that I am enjoying the benefits of telecommuting—at least for two out of every five workdays. Alvin, what took us so long?
I am grateful to the California Society of CPAs for allowing me and most of my colleagues to work from home. I’ve been doing this for more than six months now, and I think my productivity has improved, mostly because I have fewer distractions. And telecommuting has allowed me to spend more time with my family as I gain back those hours spent in my car driving to and from an office. As a result, I am a happier person.
To those who say that telecommuters cannot collaborate as well with their colleagues because they don’t see them every day, I respond that even when I’m in the office I primarily communicate with fellow employees by email or phone, which I can do just as well at home. And nowadays I can video conference through my home computer.
Some people wonder how managers can tell if home-based employees are actually working. But generally people who are hard-workers in office settings will also be hard-workers at home. In fact, they probably are faster and more dedicated workers because they are happy that they can work remotely.
Obviously most jobs cannot be done at home, but for those of us who are primarily symbolic analysts (and I’ll write about that next time), we likely can do our work regardless of where we are in the world or what time zone we’re in. All we need is a personal computer. Even a smart phone or a tablet PC can keep us connected—and on the job—with clients, customers and colleagues.
Does your employer offer a telecommuting option? If you have employees, do you allow them to telecommute? What are the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting compared to working mostly in a traditional office setting?