Thursday, March 09, 2006

This is Progress?

This article hits the nail on the head. Cubicles are evil and they suck the life out of you.

From the article:

If working at home is now part of the zeitgeist, one very large employer that seems increasingly tapped in is the U.S. government. Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican whose Virginia district is home to many federal worker bees, has made telecommuting his pet project. "There is nothing magic in strapping ourselves into a metal box every day only to drive to an office where we sit behind a desk working on a computer," he told a congressional committee.

Wolf sees telecommuting as a way to decrease traffic, reduce air pollution, increase productivity, and frustrate terrorists. In 2004 he launched a campaign to penalize government agencies by docking funds if they fail to support telecommuting. Now the SEC, the State Department, the Department of Justice, and four other big agencies are required to offer every eligible worker the opportunity to telecommute.

A 2005 survey by Milwaukee's Dieringer Research Group reported that 26 million Americans use broadband to do work from home. Sales reps and consultants have always worked remotely; now finance people, lawyers, administrators, researchers, and creative types can too. Just as infotech has enabled companies to offshore white-collar functions, it also untethers Stateside employees from their cubes.

Coming to the office for meetings and in-person collaboration is still important, of course, but as Brand points out, "People are realizing they don't need face-to-face time all the time."
My commute is two hours at each end of the day, and I have repeatedly tried to discuss the telecommuting option with my boss. Each and every time the reply has been, "Your job requires you to be in the office." No counter-arguments to me being behind the keyboard more hours during the day. No rationalization of requiring my presence. Just the blanket statement.

However, I do know the real reason. Way back when, my wife ran the research department. One year, business was slow, and the raise/bonus pool was too small to give all the support staff decent raises/bonues, so as an alternative to actual cold hard cash, my wife negotiated with her boss (the CFO) two "work-from-home" (way before "telecommuting" was even coined) days per week for her department world-wide. Being the smart cookie that she is, she didn't settle for a handshake and the gentleman's promise; she got it in writing, and that turned out to be a good thing.

Not long after, as the administrative assistants started noticing the research department's frequent "work-from-home" days, they decided that they wanted work from home days too. Only, there's one problem. How can anyone in their right mind imagine for a second that an administrative assistant can support their principal(s) from home? How does one monitor the phone line and intercept calls when the principal is on the line? How does one pop into the office to take some notes on some urgent items that need to be dealt with immediately in person down the hall? Of all the professional roles in Corporate America, being an Administrative Assistant is going to be the last one to be freed from the requirement of being in the office.

Anyway, they nearly unionized in their effort to win "work-from-home" days, but management came down hard on them to end the effort, and I believe a few were fired in order to get the point across to the rest. However, what that has done is forever close the topic of telecommuting for every other department company-wide.

I'm a web-developer. I edit text files on a web server, with the occasional GIF or JPG thrown into the mix. With company VPN, integrated Inbox for voicemail and email, and broadband/wireless at home, I could easily be sitting in my living room every day from 8AM to 5:30PM; coding, debugging, brainstorming, and generally being seamlessly available to all my current "customers" just as I am now, as most of my interactions occur over the phone. But instead, I have to leave my house at 6AM and return at 6PM. Cubicles suck. Posted by Picasa

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