Telework and sociability

Today, I'm sitting in NY from a hotel room in Times Square. Walking around the city yesterday which I haven't been to for a while I was struck by the fact that some of bicycle parking was roofed – why is that rare. There are a lot more cyclists, and the foot traffic is as much as Oxford Street in London.

At a meeting I went to – the topic was teleworking – we had a discussion on the 'business case' for it here in the NY office. Unlike other offices the people I was talking with didn't think the saving on carbon emissions was a selling point. Here, in Manhattan, people use mass transit to get into the office, and where they part outside in one of the boroughs in order to pick up the mass transit the boroughs are against the idea of teleworking because they'd lost parking fees, etc.

Not only that, the additional argument was that people like coming into Manhattan to go to the shops, meet up with friends in other offices, and enjoy city life. All a very different story from other regional offices I've visited where there is no mass transit, and the commute is long.

One of these has embraced teleworking in a novel way. They are working from home using their commute time to walk, and collecting 'points' for each minute walked. Teams are competing with each other for most time walked. Alongside this they are logging their carbon emissions saved and giving the credits to a non-profit.

So it seems that introducing teleworking into different styles of urban, suburban, city, or country living requires different protocols and approaches. But there is a common thread – the search for community and sociability.

Thus it was interesting to read in strategy+business, today that Charles Landry, consultant and author of

"encyclopedic books, such as The Art of City-Making (Earthscan Publications, 2006), The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators (2nd ed., Earthscan Publications, 2008), and The Intercultural City: Planning for Diversity Advantage (with Phil Wood; Earthscan Publications, 2008), …. offer powerful insights about the role place can play in attracting, retaining, developing, and inspiring world-class people in today's fast-changing global business environment. The highly original and often spellbinding lectures that Landry delivers in venues ranging from Bali to Abu Dhabi to Bilbao provide a crash course for business and civic leaders seeking to create a regional advantage."

The article cites a 2008 report by CEOs for Cities saying that

"In the past, the attractions of working for the right company often trumped the desire to live in a great place. No longer: A landmark study by the Chicago-based CEOs for Cities released in 2008 found that 64 percent of highly mobile global knowledge workers said they were more likely to choose a job because of where an organization was located than because of the organization itself."

Mulling over that notion in relation to teleworking and how to set it up (to save real estate not commute time – but that isn't something that an individual employee would be that concerned about). I found a relevant blog on the CEOs for Cities site. Here Carol argues that 'people need people' and links to a fascinating Washington Post report Digitial Nomads Choose Their Tribes.

"Clad in shorts, T-shirts and sandals, these nomads work "wherever they find a wireless Web connection to reach their colleagues via instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and occasionally by voice on their iPhones or Skype." It is the natural evolution in teleworking. Now that wireless is widespread, workers are fleeing the isolation of home to work where they please — "especially around other people, even total strangers."

These themes lead me to think that, if community, tribalness, and social interaction are critical components of work performance then setting up teleworking, and the IT infrastructure, so it mirrors and mimics the 'tribes' and 'communities' that people are looking for in a way that works needs careful thought. I know it can be done because one of the regions I am working with has a pilot project going that is doing just that, and it's working very well.

Researching further the sociability aspects of teleworking, and its IT ramifications for organizations is now on my to do list for further work as we design to massively extend teleworking in the organization.