Rethinking knowledge work

Bosses acknowledge that remote workers don’t suffer from productivity problems. Research has found telecommuters who can work outside normal office hours and don’t have to spend time commuting often are more productive than their cubicle-bound counterparts. Rather, managers want their teams within view and are willing to trade some efficiency for the serendipity that office-based conversations might yield.

Source: Working From Home? The Boss Wants You Back in the Office

Although information and communications technology (ICT) has eliminated the need to commute to an centralized, commuter office (CCO) every work day, many organizations stubbornly cling to the old paradigm out of habit even as peak hour traffic congestion grows and makes it less practical and inaccessible.

Diane Mulcahy notes executive and human resources professionals contend the CCO supports team-building, culture and collaboration. That’s likely true. But it comes at a terrible personal cost to staff member wellness and work satisfaction, not to mention the cost of maintaining CCOs. It’s not a good and sustainable tradeoff and it’s time to acknowledge that circumstance.

Silicon Valley ICT companies adhere to the CCO model, building huge, high dollar corporate campuses and busing staff there daily from San Francisco over jammed freeways. In the larger scheme, to solve this problem requires rethinking knowledge work. To what extent does it have to be done face to face and what can be done without staff being co-located? If team members must be in close daily proximity over the course of a project, a brainstorming session or an agile sprint, might that be done on a temporary basis with team members housed in close proximity so they don’t have to commute? In this framework, the CCO is replaced by a conference or meeting facility, with knowledge workers spending most of their time working in their communities in home offices or satellite or co-working spaces.

The solution to traffic congestion has to come from the demand side since adding more freeway lanes or smart vehicles isn’t the answer. That will require knowledge and information economy organizations to rethink how they manage and allocate resources.

Ongoing paradox of SF Bay Area that underutilizes ICT, chokes on traffic congestion

If it seems as if you’re spending more time behind the wheel than ever, it’s not an illusion. Since 2010, the amount of time Bay Area drivers endure crawling along in freeway congestion has soared 70 percent.That’s the highest level of “congested delay” — time spent in traffic moving at speeds of 35 mph or less — since traffic experts began keeping track in 1981.

Source: Drive across Bay Bridge tops list of Bay Area’s worst commutes – SFGate

The San Francisco Bay Area continues to underutilize its signature product — information and communications technologies (ICT) — that could make a big dent in its world class traffic congestion by reducing commute trips.

Instead of commuting along freeways to offices located elsewhere in the Bay Area, ICT enables knowledge workers to remain at home or in the communities rather than playing road warrior each work day. But the Industrial Age commute to the office habit is proving to be very enduring even as traffic congestion and associated delays and adverse quality of life impacts continue to increase.

ICT, declining role of CCO forcing redefinition of knowledge work

The maturation and proliferation of information and communications technology (ICT) is upending the concept of knowledge work. During the late Industrial Age, knowledge work meant working Monday through Friday 8-5 in a commute-in office. If a knowledge worker made the commute and showed up every workday, 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week — ipso facto they were performing knowledge work. As Dave Rolston wrote in his 2013 eBook Four Dead Kings at Work, these strictures of time and place are breaking down.

In the process, that collapse is forcing a redefinition of knowledge work to mean, well, work and specifically the work product — and not a daily trip to appear at a centralized commuter office (CCO). After all, that daily commute adds no intrinsic value and in fact extracts significant personal cost from knowledge workers that can reduce their morale and interest in what really counts – their work projects.

The current time is one of transition away from Rolston’s dying kings of the traditional workplace. Take, for example, the growing buzz on workplace flexibility and telework or virtual/remote work. It represents a shift away from the CCO and illustrates the tension between the traditional CCO and new, emerging ways of performing knowledge work beyond the CCO.

The CCO took many decades to be established and knowledge organizations have invested enormous sums in them. So even though ICT has effectively obsoleted them by distributing knowledge work outside the CCO, they won’t disappear overnight. But their role will fade as time goes on. In the meantime, a new definition of knowledge work will be formed that is independent of the CCO.

“Telework” is outdated in age of location independent work

There are still a remarkable number of offices filled with modern-thinking people, trying to solve modern day issues that look like they were constructed in 1984. And while I love nostalgia as much as anyone, you don’t see Google and Facebook flaunting photos of high, padded cubicle walls and flourescent lights. Why? Because they want the most out-of-the-box, creative and collaborative employees working on their future-thinking initiatives.One of the biggest barriers I face in my work, promoting workplace flexibility, is the notion that employers think I’m talking about sending everyone to work from home. Again, “telework”, a term coined in the 70’s is also antiquated. It is in fact rooted in the notion that you have to be anchored somewhere to work, which is just not the way your average employee operates in 2015.

Source: Transforming the Workplace | Calgary Economic Development

Robyn Bews nails the transformation that’s taking place in how knowledge work gets done. She makes a key point I discuss in my book Last Rush Hour: the terms “telework” and “telecommuting” are based on the Industrial Age notion that knowledge work must be performed in what I term “centralized commuter offices” or CCOs for short. Under this outdated paradigm, “tele”working in another location is the exception rather than the rule.