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Is Telework Finding a Niche?


maudit anglais
10 years ago, when I was in university, telework was branded as the "next big thing" in transportation planning. Supposedly telework, hand in hand with new urbanist development, would reduce congestion, eliminate the need for new roads, and have worrisome implications for public transit as a majority of workers began to work from home. The idea didn't really seem to take off in a big way, for a variety of reasons.

This article made me think about telework again and wonder if perhaps it is starting to find a role. A very limited role at that.
I think it depends upon the type of work and the company's willingness to allow employees to work from home or outside of the office. My job is such that I don't feel like I have to be in the office 24-7. If I don't have meetings, I'm on the internet or doing some kind of writing. Those are tasks that can be done from home. HOWEVER, my boss feels like we have to physically be in this office in order to charge or bill to our clients.


I do find many professionals in the state forest or at the lakes next to my community, who generally work from their rural homes instead of at their offices in the Chicago or (to a lesser extent) Milwaukee regions. Part of our economic development strategy is targeted to these people.

A couple years ago as I was doing research on the topic, I found where the State of Missouri was promoting telework centers. Essentially, it is a common office area where teleworkers from multiple companies might gather to conduct their work. It is something like a business incubator. They were located in rural areas. Does anybody have an update on these?
I think telework will continue to be limited. But "electronic cottage industry" has more potential. I cannot give you any links, but I have read some on the topic. One of the issues is what keeps Planderella at the office: control of employees. How do you know they actually put in X number of hours of work? And then there are a whole lot of unresolved issues such as liability, who supplies the computer, and so on. You simply have no control over employees who telecommute. But consultants and the like are people you do not control like that to begin with. You expect results and you can contract for a specific "product", at a set fee -- it matters much less how many hours they put in. They aren't punching a clock. If they can do it more efficiently, great!

I have read some books about leisure time and the emergence of the 40 hour work week and so on. Control of the time and activities of employees is an old issue. It is rooted in a power struggle concerning who has the right to your time and labor and the fruits of it. It is an issue I have thought about a fair amount because I am physically incapable of working on that basis. I cannot "produce" like that. My body simply isn't that reliable. Yet, I think I have plenty to offer. So I have thought about "how can I make money in a way which separates the "hours" from the "paycheck"?" I can meet deadlines but I really suck at keeping schedules. And I have little real control over that. Employees fundamenally are selling their time. So employers fundamentally do not want to give them the opportunity to lie and so forth about how much time it takes them. Consultants and others can charge for the work that gets finished, rather than the hours they spent on it. Piece work can also be a way around the "time for money" issue.

I still don't have good answers as to how to sufficiently separate these two things and actually make money. I will simply have to figure it out. But it's funny: I have made money in the past by separating them. I was a landlord for a time, when we owned a house and moved away and we rented it out. And I have done other creative things to improve our bottom line. But I still wrestle with how to do this on a more consistent basis.

Anyway, it is a favorite topic of mine. I think one book that is useful in understanding the issues is called "Timelock". Telework is unlikely to become "big" unless employers can find a means to "track" the hours of an employee in a way that is meaningful. And then the employee may have little reason to work from home. It becomes prison-like. :-D


Teleworking planners

As a planner in the DC Metro area, where our region promotes telecommuting, my employer doesn't offer flex-time or telecommuting or a condensed workweek as options. The rationale is that we are customer-oriented and face-to-face interactions with customers are critical, sure that makes sense, but, at the same time, a lot of the work could be accomplished from outside the office, and I wonder just how negative the reaction would be if people were told that there was not a planner to speak with them at that time, that planners had certain hours that were less than the 9-5 workday. It is difficult to be accommodating to everyone even with 9-5 hours too, for instance many people cannot (easily) come into our office in the first place because they live or work far (enough) away. And while there are busy times, there are slow times when the open door policy is vastly underutilized too. I was curious if anyone out there has helped bring telecommuting on board at their workplace and how that went?