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October 1997

Commentary by Rick Tobin  


When Does Telecommuting Become Telecommunity?

I discovered I always have choices, and sometimes
it's only a choice of attitude. - Abraham Lincoln

There are many wonders associated with telework and telecommuting, but none so grand as reinventing community. Recent studies indicate that Americans strongly desire a return to values somehow lost since the time of the 1940s. A time when a walk at night in the neighborhood was safe and sitting on a front porch did not make one a target for a drive-by shooting. A time when every door didn't have to be locked and children guarded over like sheep. With telecommuting, those times can return.


What makes a community? People? Houses? Values? Or just a chance gathering? No, there s more, but most of us working long hours, and sometimes two jobs, have lost a sense of connection with that environment and of other lives around us. But I didn't. In those glorious few years I was telecommuting from my home office, I began to make a difference in my little village. The turtle poked out his head and felt the wind and the rain. There were sunrises and sunsets. Other people actually had children. And they had successes, failures, illness and death. The panorama of what makes life a parade came into focus. That is what community was meant to be, not just a place to sleep between long commutes to a grinding office environment.


Much of the telecommuting focus in the last 10 years was on traffic reduction and air pollution controls. Now management is beginning to realize that "telework" is a better term since this new technique can reduce the need for expanding office space and lower cubicle costs.


It may even reduce the costs due to sick leave being used to cover lost time for calls from the babysitter, or any other kind of problems at home that tug the servants of labor out of their padded cells.

When employees "misuse" sick time for family problems, managers complain bitterly about the dollar-damage to the bottom line. As if nothing else matters.


And yet, it is these very same managers, mooing in the herd, bemoaning the loss of family values and communities. What is wrong with this picture?


In those wonder times as a telecommuter, I produced better products, more efficiently and with less waste than at any other time in my career. I also had a better handle on the larger issues in my profession because of the Internet, pager, fax, phone and computer in my home office.


During that halcyon time of telecommuting, I could arrange to take leadership courses in my county, I ran for -- and won -- a public office. I organized task forces. And at the end of the day, I still had enough time and energy to go to school meetings with my son and wife.


As for daily work breaks, well, I could just step outside the door of my office and kill weeds with my bare hands. What a wonderful stress release! My yard looked better and that stirred my neighbors to keep theirs up. The entire neighborhood looked better and the property values increased. There was also time left in the day to form a Neighborhood Watch group to reduce the crime rate to zip -- that's right, none.


All this community involvement and improvement was possible because telecommuting gave me back three hours a day to give back to my family, home and community ... three hours a day that had previously been lost to needless travel to and from a city job.


But now, working in an organization that does not support telework, I find the following: I m no longer active in local affairs, I have no public position, there are neighbors here and there I just haven't had time to meet, and their children are strangers. The yard is now a mess, and I m too weary to really care since I'm recovering from two car crashes in the last twelve months while commuting to my distant work site.


Let me repeat: What is wrong with this picture?


It is time for management to cease being the problem and participate in being the solution. It's time to reinvent community and our sense of identity in the parade of life. Please, remember this during Telecommute America! Week, Oct. 20-24. Like Abe said, we always have choices ...


Men do not trip over mountains, they stumble on stones. - Hindustani proverb


Rick Tobin 

Copyright 1997 - Rick Tobin

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