Phonebooths and Mailboxes

Mobility and technology together have created great benefits, not just for businesses, but also for their workers and the world.

01/30/2013 By Steve Delfino

ENVIRONMENT: Mobility turns out to be a boon for the planet as well. Research conducted by Kate Lister and her colleagues at the Telework Research Institute indicates that if 40 percent of the U.S. population that holds telework-compatible jobs worked from home just half the time:

  • The nation would save 280 million barrels of oil
  • The environment would realize the equivalent of taking 9 million cars permanently off the road
  • National productivity would be increased by 5.5 million man-years4

QUALITY OF LIFE: Workers derive great benefits when given the flexibility of working at home. Cisco’s employees telecommute, on average, two days a week and:

  • 69 percent experience increased productivity
  • 75 percent reported timeliness of work improved
  • 67 percent reported that the overall quality of their work improved
  • 80 percent experienced an improved quality of life5

In 2010, researchers from Penn State analyzed 46 studies of telecommuting conducted over two decades and covering almost 13,000 employees. The results: working from home has “favorable effects on perceived autonomy, work-family conflict, job satisfaction, performance, turnover intent and stress.”6

the social animal
Every benefit has its downside. Mobility may lead to greater autonomy; it can also, however, lead to greater isolation. Humans are social animals; the desire to communicate and connect seems hardwired into our very nature. I love my smartphone and my tablet because they allow me to work freely in or out of the office. I can teleconference with colleagues anywhere in the world. But I also still want to talk to colleagues face to face. Socializing, collaboration and in-person meetings are vitally important to our psyche and our creativity. Whenever I’m asked if the office will disappear, I resort to one psychological fact: human beings are social animals who need physical contact to survive.

Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard R. Reilly, authors of Uniting the Virtual Workforce, coined the term ‘virtual distance’ to refer to the disconnect that occurs when people spend more time with computers than with each other. Whether it’s an associate who is a continent away, communicating by teleconference, or an associate a cubicle away who emails instead of dropping by, a gulf exists. Too many tech sources can actually inhibit the give-and-take nature of face-to-face spontaneity.7

The reality is, even though our mobility frees us from the constraints of the traditional workplace, the office is an important aspect in our ability to develop and be innovative.

choosing bricks or clicks
Consider these words addressing workplace flexibility: “It’s about attracting and retaining top talent in the workforce and empowering them to do their jobs, and judging their success by the results that they get—not by how many meetings they attend or how much face time they log.” Steve Jobs didn’t say that; President Barack Obama did, in a 2010 speech at his White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility.

In a knowledge-based economy, such as what exists today, the office is not a place to simply house equipment, documents and the people necessary for work to take place. It’s really a site for facilitating the flow of information between and among people; a place where workers create formal and informal networks for a sense of community. As part of the research for my book, I looked at the workplace strategies of four different companies. Three are located in the San Francisco Bay area and one is in Toronto, Canada. Each has its own way of promoting collaboration and community through mobility.

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