Conversation with Jack Nilles, father of “telecommuting”

This episode features Jack Nilles, who coined the term “telecommuting” in the early 1970s –before the personal computer and well in advance of today’s Internet-enabled information and telecommunications technologies. Back then as today, environmental concerns over fossil fuel emissions and their impact on climate and health were prominent. In Los Angeles where Nilles lived at the time and still does today, Angelenos complained of bad traffic and bad air. So Nilles performed a thought experiment while stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work. He asked himself, why are all these people driving to an office to use a telephone when they could just as easily do so at home?

Nilles subsequently made a career shift from rocket scientist to change agent and consultant and later formed JALA International, working with companies interested in the concept of distributing knowledge work to the communities where their employees live, working in home or in satellite offices connected to their downtown offices.

Looking back over the past 40 plus years, Nilles says he is surprised the migration out of centralized, commute-in offices has been so slow. He points to an entrenched Industrial Age mindset equating work with physical presence. However, Nilles adds it’s slowly but surely breaking down, predicting between one fourth and one third of knowledge workers will be working outside of the traditional office space by 2020. Among the major benefits, according to Nilles, are higher productivity, reduced office space costs, happier and healthier staff and enhanced employee attraction and retention.

(NOTE: Audio quality is degraded in portions due to Internet connection quality problems but the dialogue can be heard OK).

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