The Developing Work World: Distributed Work

Those on the cutting edge of workplace issues continue to argue that telecommuitng and increased use of distributed work is the way of the future. They see a perfect storm being created by the convergence of many factors, including: technology advances making it easy to work virtually from virtually anywhere, increasing cost of benefits making companies more and more interested in part-time and other non-traditional employment relationships, and polution, congestion and gas prices making it increasingly impractical to move such a large number of people across town twice a day.

This past week retired Harvard Business School Professor Shoshana Zuboff published an article addressing the issue from an environment standpoint. He is addressing mayors from the around the country that were meeting to discuss the air polution and road congestion issues facing their respective cities. Here is a snippet:

Big city mayors meet this week [note: that was the week of May 15] to discuss what they can do to reduce global warming. Alot of their talk will focus on how to get people to do less: drive less, use less electricity, etc. As in the spirit of John's recent post, the debate takes the form of parsing a scarce resource. It's punitive and puritanical. Worst of all, it assumes that the institutional demands on us stay the same. As always, it's the individual that is asked to sacrifice and change-not the institutions.

But inside the support economy is a far more sustainable and profound response to climate crisis. It entails the shift from concentrated to distributed patterns of life, work, consumption. Start with our daily obeisance to the gods of command and control: the commute. The commute exists because in the late eighteenth century canny British factory owners figured out that they could get more work out of people and use fixed assets more efficiently if everyone worked in the same place at the same time. Today, the concentrated pattern of work costs far more than it saves for firms, individuals, and the planet: It feeds needless bureaucracy; it destroys value by insulating employees from consumers; it requires mass-carbon-spewing transport. The barriers to distributed working are not technological or substantive. Progress on this front has been slow because employers don't want to give up physical supervision, because office politics require face time, because people who work "away" take unfair hits on their careers and prospects. Concentrated work patterns express power politics and are maintained out of inertia on both sides of the power equation.

You can read the rest of her article here.