Tom Durkin: I told you so
If anything good came out of the pandemic, it’s the new normal of hybrid and full-time remote work.
Although remote work has been around since last century, government and business have been resistant to adopting the technology despite indisputable evidence that remote work improves worker productivity and reduces employer costs.
I know this because I reported on what was then called telecommuting or telework for the Sacramento Business Journal, California Employee Relations Report, Telecommuting Review and Fleming LTD Telework Consulting.
Furthermore, I was a guerrilla telecommuter before the term was invented. I used to email my work home, finish it, and email it back to myself so it would be there the next day when I came back to the office.
Except when I had to cover legislative hearings or press conferences in Sacramento, all I did most days was sit at a desk, work on a computer and make phone calls — work I could have done at home without the unpaid 90-minute commute (from Auburn) each way and mandatory one-hour lunch break.
Essentially, I had to commit 12 hours of my day to get paid for eight hours of work. Add to that the stress and costs of driving and work attire, and it was not a good deal for me.
And it was not a good deal for The Bureau of National Affairs Inc., my employer at the California Employee Relations Report. BNA was paying $14K a month so our two managers could have a view overlooking the state capitol. (We 12 reporters were in windowless cubicles.)
When it became clear the California office was losing money, I proposed shutting down the office and going virtual, but the dinosaur managers refused to even consider it.
Their attitude was, “How do I know they’re working if I can’t see them?” This is called management by body count, and it is sooo last century. You don’t know if they’re working when you can see them! Football pools, baby showers, birthday parties and office gossip and politics all eat away at productive work time in the average office.
TELLING IT LIKE IT WAS
What I learned — and reported — from best-practices seminars and conferences I covered was that modern managers measure worker performance by productivity, not office attendance.
Furthermore, I reported large companies like IBM figured out how to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in facility and utility costs by downsizing office space and “hoteling.” IBM wanted their workers in the field or at home. If an employee wanted to come into the office, they had to reserve a desk because there were 10 employees for each desk.
Likewise, American Express and J.C. Penney shut down expensive call centers and sent their workers home.
I found it sadly ironic that BNA wouldn’t take the advice they were paying me to supply to our customers, who were spending top dollar for the information I was providing.
Fortunately, my reportage on telecommuting was not wasted. When BNA shut down the California office, Telecommuting Review, a C-level newsletter run by pioneering Gil Gordon Associates in New Jersey, paid me to write feature articles and white papers.
Another pioneer I worked for was David Fleming, “telework czar” for the state of California. I was webmaster of Fleming LTD Telework Consulting. It was my job to maintain an international database of telework resources and once a month write a profile of an interesting teleworker.
In 2001, I realized my own telecommuter dream for three years when I was hired to edit a magazine for Xilinx Inc. in San Jose. Because of my previous experience working remotely, I became a full-time, day-one telecommuter from Nevada City.
My copy editor was in Texas, and my writers — engineers and scientists — were all over the world anyway.
IT’S ABOUT TIME
The big takeaway from my experience of writing about remote work, and doing it, is this: For information personnel, work is something you do, not some place you go.
This is a no-brainer.
For the past several decades, I have watched in frustration as the majority of businesses and government agencies refused to adopt the remote work model.
Most C-level executives and front-line employees got it, but it was always the middle managers who resisted most.
Thus, remote work did not become the new normal until the pandemic made it absolutely necessary.
Over the past year, I have watched in bemusement as reports from astonished employers rolled in about how much money they were saving and how productive their workers were being.
I could’ve told them that 30 years ago. In fact, I did.
Tom Durkin is a freelance writer, editor and photographer in Nevada County. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
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