When I was growing up in the 50s, my mother supported a family of five by working from home, telemarketing. She had no computer, no Internet, and no communications system. She had a heavy black phone with a rotary dial. She sat at one end of the dining room table for five or six hours every day, dialing the phone with the eraser end of a pencil. She made more than a hundred calls a day selling Timken rotary oil burners, radio advertising and aluminum siding. She also did research for Trendex, and raised money for Multiple Sclerosis.
I didn’t think of it this way, but Mom was an early telecommuter. The offices where her supervisors worked were all over, one of them in another state; but she never went to any of them. All communications were by phone or printed mail.
Fast forward 60 years. The rapid advances in computing and communications have brought telecommuting to a much higher level. A good example comes from a financial publisher in New York. When computer and communications technology improved sufficiently, they saved a lot of money and time by having their editors and transcribers work from home.
Transcribers “attended” the discussions of analysts and officers of public companies on their computers, transcribed what was said, and sent it to editors who reviewed and corrected it, then published it electronically.
This model worked so well, the firm then encouraged their middle managers to work from home most days, which they were happy to do. The company saves millions on office space. There is less CO2 from cars stuck in traffic, less time spent commuting, and more available income for the employees.
Another example: A company of publishing consultants whose owner lives in Plymouth has no office at all. Two dozen professional consultants work from homes all over the country. They travel to client’s offices when necessary and, if clients come to Boston, they meet in a rented conference room.
A large law firm in Boston has done away with assigned office space for many employees. They work from home most of the time and when they have to come to the office they are assigned a desk for the day.
When enough companies have done this, the savings will be enormous. Less CO2, less stress, less traffic, less expense, and more productivity. Sadly, we have a long way to go. The Springfield Republican reports that currently only 5% of Massachusetts workers telecommute.
To speed up the conversion, Governor Baker has recently proposed “a tax credit worth $2,000 per employee that a company allows to telecommute. The total cost of the tax break would be capped at $50 million annually,” according to the Cape Cod Times.
In addition to a tax credit, we could use modern toll collecting technology to create congestion pricing successfully used by cities like London. Every major road could have an electronic toll that collects a toll from every vehicle entering a central city during the morning rush hour, or leaving during evening rush hour.
Third, we can do a better job of building our internet capacities. It won’t be too long before we have meetings which will be held in virtual rooms in which all the people in the virtual room are actually holograms. We will be working together without being together.