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November 13, 2005

The Truth about Telecommuting

I received a very interesting press release a few days ago from the American Express Global Corporate Services group. They state that a survey of 255 large US firms expect to do 61 % more travel by 2010. This confirms what I’ve always thought about all the nonsense written about the death of distance and how technology would replace face-to-face meetings. Everyone knows that the planes are full even today, and many of these people are going to meetings at their own organizations.

Since these flyers almost always have the technologies to do videoconferences, what’s the story? Why is there even more flying coming up in the future? Its expensive, nerve-wracking, tiring, and boring-all at once. Almost no one does it unless they have to at least for business. So what’s up??

Like the silly predictions for the paperless office (paper sales are up even more than travel bills) the predictions of technology replacing live meetings are another instance of the tech-utopianism that pervades American life-especially its business culture.

Of course people want to meet live! It’s the only way to establish trust, read all the signals and non-verbal cues that are offered by everyone in all conversations, exchange emotions and passions, and grasp whatever tacit understandings are on offer. In addition, when one is not present, one can't bond or make any rooted connections with others which can produce some pretty negative results for ones career.

No, and I repeat, no senior executive ever got where she is by telecommuting or exclusively working from home.

When I was at IBM they constantly tried to sell these work at home solutions as great ways to work, etc. But no senior IBM person worked that way- not even mid-level executives. Out of sight is not a viable road for anyone’s advancement.

And all of us know this to be true.

Posted by Larry Prusak on November 13, 2005 04:07 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Hi Larry,

I absolutely agree with your views. However, "work at home solutions" do make sense (at least a couple of times in a week) in places like Bangalore,India where

1. Due to traffic congestion it takes around 2 hours to travel 12 miles.

2. Such options help people maintain a good work-life balance, and hence helps organizations in retaining employees.

However working only from home can never be a viable option.

Thanks,

Sandeep

Bangalore | India
Email : srao2@sapient.com

Posted by: Sandeep Rao | December 9, 2005 11:33 PM

I don't really disagree with any of this except to point out that telecommuting shouldn't necessarily be an all-or-nothing plan. I'm in the office two days a week and save myself the time and money of the commute the other three days -- works pretty slick.

Posted by: Jeremy | December 8, 2005 02:55 PM

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