The Distributed Workplace Model
The industrial economy mandated that all the tools of productivity, raw materials, power and labor, be brought together at a single physical location. Finished products were tangible goods. This centralized industrial factory model was retained as workers migrated from the factory into the office.
The changing nature of the American economy over the past several decades has resulted in some organizations that have showed signs of moving away from the centralized model. Most of these are technology companies. The passage of the Federal Telework Law was an attempt on the part of Congress to mandate federal agencies and departments to remotely support a greater number of employees. The initial effort focused on reducing traffic in and around Washington, DC. Since 9/11 and America’s dangerous reliance on foreign oil, remote working options are increasing in importance.
Although this has been available since the early 1970’s, telecommuting from home has had limited success relative to the growth in daily commuting and its associated challenges. Several underlying factors are the social and cultural underpinnings of work.
Since Home-Based Telecommuting has been in existence for almost thirty-five years there is an abundance of organizations that represent and provide services to telecommuters.
The fundamental shortcomings of Home based telecommuting are:
- Lack of permanence – occasional use is the norm and does not provide the consistent, predictable impact on traffic demand.
- Lack of equity – not all employees ‘get to’ telework from home. This produces an employee ‘envy’ response
- Lack of security – roaming, ad-hoc remote workers present challenges with secure access to information and systems.
While proponents claim technologically secure systems, the lack of physical security undermines this claim.
- Lack of oversight – One of the major points of resistance is management’s claim of teleworkers not being ‘in the office’
- Last mile support – Remote workers are quite likely to be required to be more technically proficient on systems and software than ‘in the office’ employees. Providing technical support for ‘last mile’ aspects on an individual basis is expensive and, in some cases, technically and economically prohibitive.
- Lack of inclusion – worker isolation can be an aspect of working from one’s home. Typically, those ‘privileged’ with the ability to work remotely, have the luxury of going to the office to assure ‘being seen’.
There are many organizations that provide Home-Based Telecommuters information and services, some of them include: The United States Government, AT&T, Telework Consortium, and Teletrips.
Since Telework Centers have not been in existence as long as Home-Based Telecommuting, and Telework Centers represent a “higher level” work model alternative, there are not nearly as many organizations that are involved in the promotion or management and operations of these centers. Over the past decade forteen telework centers in and around the greater Washington DC area have been developed. The total combined capacity of these centers is approximately 350 individuals. The centers are available for government and private organization employee use. Employees ‘schedule’ time in available centers.
The centers have encountered the following challenges:
- Low utilization – For the most part, centers have had difficulty filling centers on a daily basis and average less than 50% occupancy.
- No organizational allegiance – Agencies and departments have little or no requirement to help support these centers because no organizational function to assign employees exists. The services of the center are available to federal employees who are approved to telework, however employees do not have to use the centers if they opt to work from home.