VIEWS: 33 PAGES: 19 CATEGORY: Business Letters POSTED ON: 6/5/2010
SUMMARY: This year's look-ahead Crystal Ball feature is based on that
familiar (at least in the U.S.) drinking and party song. You remember how
it goes: everyone sits around and sings verse after verse, slowly counting
down until no bottles of beer remain. It was the only theme I could think
of that related to 1999 - but has nothing to do with whether or not
telecommuters actually do drink beer while working at home.
SUMMARY: This year's look-ahead Crystal Ball feature is based on that familiar (at least in the U.S.) drinking and party song. You remember how it goes: everyone sits around and sings verse after verse, slowly counting down until no bottles of beer remain. It was the only theme I could think of that related to 1999 - but has nothing to do with whether or not telecommuters actually do drink beer while working at home.
THE CRYSTAL BALL: 99 BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL - AND OTHER COUNTDOWNS SUMMARY: This year's look-ahead Crystal Ball feature is based on that familiar (at least in the U.S.) drinking and party song. You remember how it goes: everyone sits around and sings verse after verse, slowly counting down until no bottles of beer remain. It was the only theme I could think of that related to 1999 - but has nothing to do with whether or not telecommuters actually do drink beer while working at home. Many parents have been driven crazy by hearing their children sing all 99 verses of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" while in the back seat of the car during long trips. The kids get the pleasure of singing about the forbidden subject of beer while the parents grit their teeth, regretting they ever taught the kids that song in an attempt to keep them occupied and distracted. So much for creative parenting. [For those of you not familiar with it, the song begins, "99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. You take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall. 98 bottles of beer on the wall..." and so on as you count all the way down to the last bottle of beer. The song also has its roots, of course, in various college drinking parties at which the partygoers would attempt to match their drinking pace with the declining numbers - or at least that's what I have been told...] Throughout this year, we will be bombarded with reminders that we are counting down to the big day - the start of the new century on January 1, 2000. Well, we're going to avoid the big year-end rush by doing our countdown this January. If you are melodically inclined, you can sing along as we go through the "1999 Telecommuting Countdown" - with each "verse" sung to the tune of "99 Bottles of Beer." Fear not - in the spirit of the missing-digit problem that underlies the Y2K chaos, I have come up with only 9 - not 99 - items in this countdown list. They are part observation, part prediction, and part suggestion. As is always the case with my "Crystal Ball" columns, this one is based on my reading, contact with clients, and finely-tuned sense of intuition - otherwise known as "my best guesses": #9: "Six Little-Known Names on the List, Six Little-Known Names..." The cover on the January 11 issue of FORTUNE <www.fortune.com> features the magazine's annual "100 Best Companies To Work For" report. If you're looking for a good indication of how much the sands have shifted in corporate America, look at this list: 1. Synovus Financial 2. TDIndustries 3. SAS Institute 4. Southwest Airlines 5. Scitor 6. PeopleSoft 7. Goldman Sachs 8. Deloitte & Touche 9. MBNA 10. Hewlett-Packard Your reaction to this list was probably similar to mine: "Who??" Of the ten, only four would be names generally known by even the relatively astute reader of the business news, let alone the average consumer or employee: Southwest Airlines, Goldman Sachs, Deloitte & Touche, and Hewlett- Packard. The other six vary in obscurity - SAS Industries and PeopleSoft might be known to some but the rest would generally be a mystery to most people - or so I am assuming. [You can read the article to find out how FORTUNE determined which companies made the list. While it's not as precise as the FORTUNE 500 list - based on sales dollars - the criteria used and the selection process here were quite rigorous and should meet a reasonable person's test of what makes for a great place to work.] Here's the profile of the "typical 100 Best company" - a composite view assembled by FORTUNE: - Company is 36 years old - US workforce of 5,520 - 1997 revenues of $1.3 billion - CEO has an 8-year tenure - Workforce is 44% female and 78.2% Caucasian - One-third of employees have been on the job less than two years, and 6% more than 15 years - Last year it received 19,000 job applications and added 724 jobs We're not looking at a group of brand-new Silicon Valley or biotech start-ups - but we're also not looking at the companies typically considered part of the corporate bedrock of America. In fact, you have to go down to #28 on the list before encountering one of those classic "household name" kind of firms - Merck. How do these 100 Best stack up on workplace flexibility? FORTUNE reports that: 59 offer flextime 40 offer flextime on a case-by-case basis 37 offer reduced-hour employment 25 offer compressed workweek 18 offer job sharing 18 offer telecommuting This appears to be not a very good showing for telecommuting, especially among companies deemed to be employee-friendly. But keep in mind that the rating process favored the companies that did things on a broad, programmatic basis - and attempted to exclude those where telecommuting (or any other desirable workplace feature) was in the policy book but was used rarely. Thus, almost one-fifth of this list are doing enough with telecommuting to have it judged somewhat a normal part of doing business. Where are those older, historically important corporate leaders, such as IBM, General Motors, General Electric, Xerox, Citibank, Prudential, and so on? They're not on the list. In fact, the only names in this category that appear (other than Merck) are Corning, Ernst & Young, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott International, Microsoft and 3M. The rest are made up mostly of much newer and less well-known firms. No one survey or index is definitive, but I think it is very telling to see just how much the employers that were the leaders - by anyone's definition - have slipped off the pro-employee radar screen. As the base of our economy continues to shift, we need to shift our focus to the kinds of companies on this FORTUNE list if we're looking for leading indicators of workplace change. #8: "The Company Is Giving a Damn About Me, The Company Is Giving a Damn..." "In a recent survey of 86 private and publicly held companies by Rewards Plus of America, 91 percent of the managers agreed that their companies felt responsible for bettering the lives of their employees. As little as five years ago, Rewards Plus said, most of the same companies promoted the idea that workers were responsible for their own careers and well- being." [THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 27, 1998] We're not about to return to the era of the company town and paternalistic management - thankfully - but this (very small) survey may indicate that the tide is shifting away from "Don't expect us to take care of you" to "Let us know how we can help make your lives easier." Few employees today would agree that this change is underway, but I think it's starting and the trend will accelerate. One of the themes that runs through the FORTUNE article noted above is the idea that good employers are deliberately trying to create cultures and practices that make employees feel valued and respected. Not a novel idea, you say? What's novel, I believe, is that companies are actually doing this and not just talking about it. And the really smart employers - the true "employers of choice" - will measure their every move against the benchmark of respect for and appreciation of the employee. In his editorial in the December 1 issue of CIO Magazine <www.cio.com>, Lew McCreary commented on software that "enables managers to do remote "screen captures" and thus to see, surreptitiously, what employees are doing on their computers" - a practice he refers to as "auditing employee behavior." "More and more of these tools are becoming available," McCreary notes, "supported by marketing campaigns suggesting that most of what people do online from the office revolves around pornography, sports, personal interests and CD buying. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but businesses are increasingly concerned about the economics of inappropriate "resource consumption" and the impact on productivity of nonbusiness use of the Web." An article in the same issue titled "The Company Dime" notes that "the thought of putting the Internet's voluminous resources at the fingertips of employees makes a lot of companies nervous" because they are worried employees will "get sucked into the Internet's pages and fritter the workday away." This concern is, of course, what leads to the market for the software McCreary referenced and for software that filters or otherwise restricts access to external Web sites. "But it turns out some companies are actually turning to the Internet to reduce the time employees spend on personal matters during the workday," the article continues. It describes how Consumer Financial Network <www.cfn.com> provides access to benefits and services for employees via corporate intranets. These include mortgages and auto insurance, plus long-term care and home-equity loans. "The service is free for employers; employees can often pay for policies - at group discount rates - through automatic payroll discounts. For its part, CFN earns its keep through commissions or fees paid by the participating companies when a policy or product is sold." McCreary continues in his editorial: "It's tempting to define everything in an enterprise in starkest economic terms. If time and bandwidth are assets, then employees are seen as potential thieves who need to be watched. In some corners of the enterprise - customer service call centers, for example - it may make sense to apply intrusive monitoring tools to ensure that human resources and service quality are maximized. But if you want people who think creatively, show initiative and put the needs of the enterprise and its customers first, treating them like would-be scoundrels is a massive lose-lose. People's private and work lives have begun to blur. Statistics show that the workweek - after shrinking throughout the waning century - is lengthening [Ed. note - see #4 below]. In an age when most of us sometimes - if not frequently - work at home, it should be permissible to transact a reasonable amount of private business at work. Enlightened employers understand this, and some, mindful of the trade-offs, use their intranets to help employees take care of personal business quickly and conveniently. For me, this issue inevitably returns to the question of business culture: What sort of culture do you want? One that is open, creative, empowered, based on trust and respect? Or one that is distrustful, paranoid, risk averse, disenfranchised and alienated? Do the math. Then decide what benefit spying can deliver that will outweigh its ultimate cost." We've all said it many times before: strip away everything else and you quickly see that the essence of telecommuting is trust. If a manager - or a company culture - assumes in "Theory X" style that people won't work unless watched, telecommuting will never succeed no matter how many business problems it can solve or benefits it can deliver to customers. Note that this idea of treating employees with respect and trying to make their lives easier is - and should be - as much about what the employer gets back as what it gives. This is the difference between the old- style paternalism and more modern pragmatism: smart employers today give (trust, care, convenience, empowerment, etc.) so they will get back in return (quality work, employee retention, superior performance, etc.). The backdrop against which you must view this is the tight labor market for high-quality professional staff in the U.S. and elsewhere. If you want to find and keep good people, let them know you value having them around - whether that means giving them intranet access to services, giving them comprehensive work-life support programs and services - or giving them the opportunity to telecommute. #7: "This Traffic Is Getting Much Worse Each Day, This Traffic Is Getting Much Worse..." Boy, am I getting tired of writing about traffic congestion - almost as tired as I am of sitting in it. Fortunately I don't have to do it every day, and my sympathies go out to those of you who do. Please, please tell me if I'm wrong - because I hope I am - but does anyone out there actually believe that we are making any substantial improvements in our rush- hour commuting traffic congestion? I wrote in the 11/98 TR about a trio of news items that showed how our overall traffic situation (including trip-reduction efforts, gasoline usage and use of mass transit) seems to be worsening. Nobody challenged me about that article, and nothing I have seen in the media since suggests that things are getting better. And we now have made a national issue of "road rage" - the kind of impatient and aggressive driving that stems from a combination of incivility and impatience. Drivers are cautioned about how to avoid confrontations with these angry warriors - and the warnings sound more like precautions for encountering a street gang (e.g., "Don't make eye contact - don't respond to verbal abuse - don't attempt to retaliate") than for driving to work in an allegedly civilized society. I have related in past TR articles a mid-1990's quote from a friend of mine; he said "Time is to the 90's what money was to the 80's," in terms of what is sought and valued. Now that we're moving out of the 90's, I'm going to update that quote: "Peace of mind is to the 00's* what time was to the 90's." [* - What do we call the next decade? We go from the 80's to the 90's to the ...? Our son will graduate from college in 2000; he'll be a member of the class of '00??] My sense is that the quickening and more complex pace of life that developed in the late 90's will create a tremendous backlash in the form of employees establishing personal frustration or stress budgets. No longer will employees simply absorb pressure after pressure - no longer will they leave their homes earlier and earlier to get to the office on time, or earlier, to do more and more work. I can easily envision people (in this tight labor market - remember?) adding one more non-negotiable item to their job-hunting shopping list: "No more than four hours per week in total commuting time" or something similar. This will not be expressed as it is today in terms of the maximum desirable daily commute time or distance. It will be based on total weekly commuting time and on assumed access to telecommuting - so that, for example, someone living one hour from the office would take a job that allows for three days of telecommuting a week, and thus requires a total of only four hours commuting (two days x two hours round-trip commuting per day). These weekly commuting requirements will be created by employees who are only willing to devote a limited amount of energy and stress reserves to the daily commute. The idea that people will willingly endure up to twenty hours of commuting time each week - and the attendant aggravation - will become as outdated as washing clothes by beating them on a rock by a river. #6: "Less Wires/More Bandwidth Is What We All Want, Less Wires/More Bandwidth Is It..." Here's part of the current advertising for AT&T's Digital One-Rate wireless phone <www.attws.com/personal/onerate> service: "Do you make a lot of calls outside your home coverage area? With AT&T Digital OneRate, roaming and long distance charges are a thing of the past. Every call is like a local call. Every call is billed like a local call. It's so simple and affordable, your wireless phone may become your only phone." Similarly, another AT&T ad asks something like, "When does it stop being a "wireless phone" and just become a "phone"?" I recently signed up for this service and bought a Nokia 6160 phone as part of the package. I'm paying $89 a month for 600 minutes anywhere in the U.S. - that's 15 cents a minute, which is much less than I had been paying for my calling-card and prior cellular service calls, and only a few pennies a minute more than I pay for AT&T long-distance service from my office through a consolidator. The Nokia phone slips into my pocket (and slips out too, I've learned) and fits in the palm of my hand, and is, well, downright cute. It does almost everything except change the oil in my car. There's no more thinking "long distance" or "peak calling hours" - every call, every time of day is 15 cents a minute. Just as getting a cable modem put the Internet on my desktop [see 12/97 TR], this phone and the One-Rate service has redefined my thinking about telephony. This is as much a function of the wireless aspect as the rate plan. I recently saw a person sitting in an airport with his laptop equipped with a cellular modem PCMCIA card. There was a tiny antenna about three inches tall sticking out from the card. That's it - no wires, no looking for dial-up ports on pay phones, no connecting the laptop to a handheld cell phone. This was truly portable computing, and it is an example of why the fundamental concept underlying telecommuting is rapidly becoming remote access from virtually any location - and not just working from home. True, homebased telecommuters aren't as likely to use a cellular modem in their laptops. Wireless service is great but it still has its glitches, and certainly cannot (yet) provide reliable access at the speeds available even with a 56K dial-up line, let alone any kind of wired digital service. But the wireless mindset will increasingly drive mobile work, even within buildings, as technology such as wireless LANs become more widespread. ******* Related Story: Never A Dull Moment In U.S. Telecom Industry Here's some late news that relates to this wireless issue: AT&T MARCHES ON - On December 30, the Federal Trade Commission approved AT&T's planned acquisition of cable giant TCI; the Federal Communications Commission still has to approve the deal. USA TODAY reported the same day that AT&T is nearing a deal with Time Warner to "finance the upgrade of Time Warner cable TV networks for voice and high-speed Internet access ... The TCI and Time Warner deals would give AT&T access to half the country's consumers." Together with AT&T's earlier acquisition of Teleport Communications Group (TCG), a major competitive local-exchange carrier, this deal will enable AT&T to plunge into the residential local service market. Contemplate what it will mean when AT&T can offer its existing long-distance network, its wireless network, its wired local service (via TCG's fiber network) and cable-based telephony and Internet access (via TCI and Time Warner cable). BELL ATLANTIC MARCHES ON TOO - On January 1, the NEW YORK TIMES reported that Bell Atlantic is "in talks to buy Airtouch Communications, the largest wireless phone company" in the U.S. "If a deal is reached ... the prices of some cellular calls, especially charges for roaming, could be sliced as much as 50 percent on the newly combined network, possibly enough to spark an industry-wide reduction in rates." Referring to the AT&T Digital One Rate plan and a similar plan from Sprint PCS, the TIMES observed that a "nationwide network forged in a Bell Atlantic and Airtouch combination, analysts said, would be well positioned to compete against both plans." You can see what's happening - as prices for formerly expensive cellular service are driven down by competition, and as large regional or national networks are formed, the prospect of cheap, national, flat-rate wireless is very likely. And as the former "long-distance" carriers like AT&T, and MCI, blur the lines between local and long-distance service, there will be added pressures to drive rates down and even more wireless access. Who knows - all this activity might even result in a reduction in the number of telecommunications service bills the average household receives. It has been a while since I tallied for you the list of bills that the Gordon household receives; here it is: Residential Service Homebased Business Service Bell Atlantic (local) Bell Atlantic (local) AT&T (long distance) AT&T (long distance) Bell Atlantic (cellular) AT&T (wireless) Comcast (cable TV) Comcast (cable modem) AOL (Internet/e-mail) Compuserve (e-mail) AT&T (calling card) I am well aware that I could simplify this picture somewhat - but not a lot, and still have the ability to clearly separate my residential and business expenses. But even if I cut that list of eleven monthly bills down to eight, that's still way too many. ******* Even more important than the shift to wireless is the constantly- escalating bandwidth race. I have never heard anyone say "Gee, I have too much bandwidth - my connection speed is too fast." There's an almost insatiable demand, especially as more people work remotely and become accustomed to digital connections (e.g., ISDN, cable modems, or DSL). As I advise clients this year about their remote-access technology plans, I will urge them to trade features for bandwidth; most telecommuters will take a less-than-superior laptop or desktop PC if they can also get reliable high-speed access. This will be the year of the deployment battles among those three digital pathways. DSL is being promoted heavily by several regional Bell operating companies, as well as the competitive local exchange carriers - but it suffers from the same problems that ISDN had in the early and mid- 1990's. ISDN is - finally - quite widely available, but DSL is only in its earliest testing stages in most cases. Employers who want to use DSL for telecommuting run into what I call the "pregnancy problem" - you can't be a little bit pregnant, and you can't be a little bit deployed with a new technology. If it's not widely available it's not available - period. Employers simply don't have the time or resources to support trials of new technology for one or two telecommuters, while also try to support whatever everyone else is using. [For several good sources of information about DSL developments and trends, go to the Telecommunications Services listing of the Products and Services section of my Web site <www.gilgordon.com/resources/products9.htm>.] #5: "The Cubicles Are Going Away At Last, The Cubicles Are Going Away..." Are we getting to the point where what we now call "alternative officing" is no longer "alternative"? Are we finally breaking down the decades- old status- and hierarchy-based approach to doling out office space and furnishings? We're headed in that direction, but aren't quite there yet. The December 22 LOS ANGELES TIMES article titled "Thing There's No Place Like Home? Try the Office" begins as follows: "The so-called alternative office, where it's hard to tell the managers >from the managed, may soon need a new name: the mainstream office. An urge to make the office more like home - and home more like the office - has caught on at a number of major corporations, where changes are being driven by the high cost of office space, competitive pressures, and shifting cultural shifts." Other than the fact that Scott Adams will have less material for his DILBERT <www.dilbert.com> comic strip, I can't think of any reason why we'd miss "cubicle-land" style offices. They are more rigid than today's workflow requires, they emphasize individual space over collaborative space, and they drive up the square footage requirements (and thus the cost) of housing professionals in an office. As with all changes, however, making the transition is much trickier than enjoying the benefits that follow. There have been many poorly-planned and mismanaged alternative officing trials - along with lots of good ones. There is often too little communication among the facilities planners, the technology planners, the organization planners, and the employees involved. My formula for the ideal office is to blend equal parts of a college library (with its individual, first-come first-served study carrels), a Starbucks (with its coffee and other drinks in a casual setting that encourages conversation), a Kinkos (with its array of office support equipment and services), and a hotel conference center (with a variety of private and semi-private areas for meetings and conferences). [As an aside, I suggest you visit <www.kinkos.com> and scroll through the listing of Products and Services. This will give you a good idea of just how far these stores have progressed beyond being photocopying shops, and how well they meet the needs of mobile workers.] When more workers are more mobile, as they are today, they need a place to land and not a place to live while in the office. And they need more space to do things together than to do things individually; if they have been entrusted and empowered to work remotely, that's where they will do their intensive, heads-down desk work - not in the office. When I go into a client to discuss any form of telecommuting or virtual office work, I know we're off to a good start if there are representatives around the table from line management of the department affected, facilities management, human resources, and information technology. Remove any one of those four and you're almost certainly destined to fail. Alternative officing is moving into the mainstream but will not even come close to doing so without this kind of coordinat ed approach. The process of sketching out floor plans or choosing panels and work surfaces is but a tiny part of the alternative officing process. In fact, perhaps we should start calling it "alternative working" instead of alternative officing, to emphasize how incidental the office itself is to the process. #4: " 'Do More With Less' Is a Mess For Us, 'Do More With Less' Is a Mess..." Each Wednesday, the first page I turn to in the WALL STREET JOURNAL is Sue Shellenbarger's "Work & Family" column. She and I have become journalistic colleagues over the years, and I am always encouraged and excited by her columns. [Go to <www.wsj.com> and search for "Shellenbarger" to find her columns - though you'll have to pay to actually read the columns. This is the "commerce" part of "electronic commerce"...] Her December 30 column was no exception - coincidentally, it was her "Crystal Ball"-type column in which she looked ahead to the future. Here is one of her forecasts: " 'Work redesign' will be the new work-life buzzword. After several years of stressing flexible schedules, most big companies now have flexibility language on the books. But the policies lack impact, largely because Godzilla-size workloads keep employees from using them. "Workload is the issue, and it has become the greatest single obstacle to flexibility," says Paul Rupert, a flexibility consultant with WFD Inc., Boston. Few employers will hire more people amid a likely economic slowdown, but many will give employees a fighting chance to work flexibly by redesigning work - putting tasks in priority, erasing nonessential duties and smoothing work flow." We are now in the post-downsizing, post-crunch era in which it is becoming clear, I believe, that the exhortations to "do more with less" have actually resulted in many employees doing less with less. This is a generalization, but my anecdotal evidence tells me that too many people are being too overworked for too long a period. Everyone can cope with occasional sprints to meet an important deadline, but no one can cope - for long - with a pace that never allows them to catch their breath. The legacy of downsizing in most companies is that we got rid of the people but didn't do anywhere near as much to get rid of the work. There were fewer people to do as much or more work, and they are expected to do so at e-mail-inspired warp speed. Add to this the mistaken assumption that it's a badge of honor to work more hours on more days than a co-worker, and you have a situation where employees are getting burned out - and just as bad, the quality of their work suffers. Telecommuting comes to the rescue here to a degree; we hear from countless telecommuters that they can at least cope better with big workloads if they have the flexibility to work in a more relaxed setting with fewer distractions, and adjust their hours to their preference. Even if they have the same amount of work, they often experience it as less stressful. But this isn't the solution to the underlying problem. Our organizations are getting strained and stretched to a degree that there is no resilience left. There's no capacity to bounce back, to prepare and re-energize for the next project. Add to this the anytime/anywhere blessing-curse of mobile technology (voice mail, e-mail, pagers, Palm Pilots, etc.) and we have even made it difficult for people to get a break when they're on a break. Smart employers will start swinging the pendulum back to something more sensible. It cannot go all the way back to the fat, dumb and happy days of slothful organizations and ludicrously big budgets, but it must at least move away from the excessive expectations and workloads of today. #3: "Reflecting Is What We'll Be Doing This Year, Reflecting Is What We'll Be Doing..." Once or twice a week my e-mail inbox includes a short newsletter from Elliott Masie of The MASIE Center <www.masie.com>, the "technology and learning think tank" as he describes it. Most of his writing is about new trends and technologies in learning, but his December 30 newsletter was a series of predictions including this one: "CHANGE & REFLECTION: The easiest prediction to make for 1999 is that there will be change. I should turn in my trends analyst cap for making that one. Yet, in 1999, there are other forces at work to make change a valid prediction. We believe that people and organizations will use the coming change in calendar to drive greater than ever reflection and introspection. As we face a benchmark as large as the turn of the millennium, it is only natural that we will take a deep breath. I would predict that you will see an unprecedented level of personal and organizational reflection in the next 12 months. Lots of folks will take stock of their careers, consider alternatives and examine their learning needs. Business units will want to go into the next thousand years with greater clarity and focus. So, strap on your change seat belt...it will be quite a year ahead." I like that term "organizational reflection" to describe what organizations should do as they prepare for the new century. At one level it's silly to talk about organizations being introspective and reflecting - it's the people in them that do those activities. But Masie is getting at something bigger, I believe; he's suggesting that all those people in the organizations should reflect not only on their own direction, accomplishments and values, but should also somehow collectively ask where the organization is going and what it's all about. This may sound like some kind of New Age hype but it's not meant to be. An example might help: Sue Shellenbarger's comment about workload calls for organizational reflection and introspection - above and beyond what each manager and executive does. This is something like the process that began in the late 1970's when organizations started convening groups of employees to draft corporate mission statements and lists of corporate values and the like. The difference today, I think, is that mission statements are more about what the corporation does, while reflection and introspection are more about what the corporation is. Several of these "countdown" items have a strong values orientation, and that's no accident. It seems to me that we are entering a time when employees are as much interested in values as value, and as concerned as much with culture as customers. I'm not sure if I've expressed this clearly - and I'm not even sure if it's clear in my own mind. This is an example of a theme that has become increasingly important to me: the idea that telecommuting is just the tip of an iceberg, and it is that iceberg of organizational change that intrigues me. Among the layers in that submerged iceberg is the concept of corporate values. Telecommuting is often a wedge that opens up the door to discussion about those values - how else can we explain all the agonizing over trust, control, and accountability that accompany every telecommuting implementation? I know I'll be thinking about these issues this year, and encourage you to do likewise. #2: "The TELECOMMUTE Conference Is Resting This Year, The TELECOMMUTE Conference Is Resting..." I have not formally announced this yet, though I have begun to tell people when asked: After a lot of hard thought and looking at pros and cons, I have decided not to schedule TELECOMMUTE '99. Having done the conference for seven years, 1999 will be a sabbatical year for TELECOMMUTE. The reasons are a combination of the changing (and rapidly declining) market for multi-day on-site conferences on all subjects, the uncertainty of attendance which creates incredible pressure (financially and otherwise), and the fact that when I add everything up - even though we had a more profitable conference in 1998 than in any prior year - the projected profit for this year simply does not justify the amount of time I have to put into it. This is a very, very difficult decision for me, for lots of reasons. For one thing, after doing the conference seven years I think my conference partner ICMI and I finally figured out how to do it very well. For another, there is a terrific sense of community and networking among the people who attend, even for the first time. I have wavered back and forth on this for the last few months, and now it's time to announce the decision. I will be participating in other conferences next year, most notably the Gartner Group's Remote Access conference in San Diego in March; you can get details in the Events listing at <www.gartner.com>. And I'm also looking very seriously at a Web-based conferencing tool that is certainly not as good as being there in person but - if done well - will help meet the need for providing updated information and stimulating discussion. Stay tuned... For those of you who have attended, exhibited, or presented at past TELECOMMUTE conferences, this is an opportunity for me to thank you profusely for all your support over the seven years of the conference. Each year after the conference I feel like it subtracts a year from my life (in terms of the time and energy commitment) but in reality, it has added much more to my personal and professional life, in terms of all I have learned and all the friendships I have made. #1: "This Newsletter Is Going To Change (Sometime), This Newsletter Is Going To Change..." As long as I'm talking about changes, here is an announcement about another one: this TELECOMMUTING REVIEW newsletter is going to undergo some kind of change in the next few months. I realize that's a very lukewarm and unclear announcement. I had hoped by this point to be able to tell you exactly what the change will be. A few months ago I sent out a survey to a sample of TR subscribers, asking for their opinions about shifting TR from a traditional printed newsletter to some kind of electronic format. Here is the introduction from that survey: The TELECOMMUTING REVIEW (TR) newsletter has been published since October 1984 - that's fourteen years - as a traditional printed newsletter. Because you have subscribed for some, much, or even all of that time, your opinion about a possible change in the newsletter is very important to me. I am seriously considering changing from a printed, mailed newsletter to one that is published and distributed on the Internet. There are three reasons for thinking about this change: 1. COST - The cost to print a two-color newsletter using a high-quality printing company for the quantity we print is higher than I like. I don't want to lower the quality to lower the cost; besides, most of the cost is for the layout and pre-printing processes. The actual printing costs are not as much an issue. First-class postage is another factor, but not the main one. 2. CONTENT AND VALUE - Publishing the newsletter online would let me make three important changes: - Easier to include photos and other graphics to complement the text; - Ability to include embedded links to relevant Web sites to provide instant access to information that complements the text; - Ability to include links to (or downloadable) text of earlier TR articles related to a current article. 3. TIMELINESS - The time it takes to deliver a completed newsletter each month would be shortened by as much as 7-10 days - which is the current interval between the day I finish the writing and editing and the day you get your printed copy in the mail. Even though (as a monthly newsletter) TR has never been filled with "late-breaking news," this faster production time can only help make each month's issue more timely. There are, of course, some drawbacks to this proposed change. A printed newsletter is more portable, more easily stored and retrieved for later use, can be read without any technology other than your eyes, and is simply a more convenient, familiar format. The responses were generally quite positive; subscribers indicated they would find a new format as useful if not more so. Although I still believe in the three reasons for making the change listed in the survey, I have not yet been able to decide on a new format that solves more problems than it creates. There's something comfortable and tangible about a printed newsletter. There's also something very old-fashioned about it - especially in terms of what can be done with embedded links and other "live" features in an electronic product. This is especially relevant in terms of finding a better way to integrate TR with my Web site. What I'm looking for is a solution that gives readers the advantages of both print and electronic formats, and - quite frankly - does not jeopardize my subscription income and even increases it. I'm not going to share any numbers with you, but suffice it to say that our kids' college tuition is not being funded in large part by the profits from TR. Whether or not you completed the mailed survey last fall, I would very much like to hear your suggestions or comments. I hate to sound so indecisive about this change, but I have always tried to be candid in all aspects with my subscribers and this is no exception. I don't want to rush into a change that takes TR in the wrong direction. You can call (732-329- 2266), fax (732-329-2703) or e-mail (email@example.com) with your comments. "No more bottles of beer on the wall, no more bottles of beer..." There you have it. We've come to the end of the 99 bottles and the 9 observations for 1999. Thanks for bearing with me in this long article, and please let me know your reactions to any of these points.
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