What NYC Transit Strike?
turbotodd 100000388Y Visits (1942)
transit strike tonight, my sympathies are with you.
I lived and worked in NYC for several years on two different occasions. In my first stint during college, I was an infamous New York City bicycle messenger, so getting around Manhattan was not a problem. I jumped curbs, flew down 5th Avenue dodging buses and leaping tall buildings with a single bound (not to mention taxis, and, most challenging of all, other human beings). And, the best part, I lived to tell about it.
Later, when I was living and working there as a professional in the late 90s and early 00s, I ditched the bike and car in favor of the bus and subway. I became a master at public transportation. I knew the NYC bus and train routes inside and out, and for those I didn't know, I could usually figure out with a glance at the map.
I cannot even imagine life there during a transit strike, although for many of us at IBM (including several with whom I chatted today), telecommuting has created a virtual bridge that can make such events go almost unnoticeable these days. I first wrote about the benefits of telecommuting both for companies and for employees way back in 1993 for one of our software magazines. This was pre-Internet, pre-VPN, pre-
Flash forward to 2005, and the technology should be the least of your worries. Telecommuting is becoming much more pervasive, with an estimated 4+ million telecommuters working in the US alone.
Increasingly, work is something you do, not a place you go. I visited my own office at IBM Austin last week -- mainly, to check my mail and see if my office was still there. I hadn't been there in nearly 6 weeks! People looked at me like "who the heck is that guy?"
Most of the people on the team with whom I work every day these days are scattered all over the planet. On any given day, I work with people from: San Diego, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Boston, New York City, London, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney, and all points in between. It's honestly more important for me to know my colleagues' location for the purpose of time zone shifting than it is to ever find their office.
Now, with the NYC transit strike, I realize there are great benefits to being away from the big city, and also to being able to work from mi casa. I get more hours of the workday for working (which means IBM gets more hours out of me). I'm able to exercise and not have to worry about where I'm going to take a shower. Our Lotus Sametime instant messaging software allows us to stay a pulse away from one another. And oh, did I mention that IBM is the land of the 60-minute conference call?
People ask me if I miss being in an office. In some ways, yes, but I also don't have the distractions and/or interruptions that could really put a damper on a solid run at getting some real and productive work done. And instant messaging is its own interruption (which is why I've been using it more strategically of late, turning it off completely when I really need to get some deliverables done). But there's still plenty opportunity for meeting, chatting, and conversing with colleagues...it's just done over the phone versus in a room.
For knowledge work, I can't imagine why more companies aren't considering it. At the end of the day (or quarter), it really comes down to trust. Do you trust your employees or not? I can honestly say that IBM does trust us, arming us with reliable VPN software and ThinkPads that allow us to work anywhere there's a phone line. In turn, IBM is benefitting tremendously with the increase in productivity, reduced real estate costs, and much happier employees.
Moving forward, especially after this NYC transit strike, I suspect that many organizations large and small are going to take a second look at telecommuting.
They should. Whether due to lost productivity (estimated at $400M a day in NYC!), or the increased fuel surcharges for business travel, or just the increase in human stress from sitting in traffic or being paranoid about Avian flu, there are plenty of reasons to consider enabling employees to work from anywhere, particularly knowledge workers.
I should know. My office this week is my parent's kitchen table, where I'm working away as the news murmurs on in the background about all the lost productivity due to the NYC transit strike.