Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Telecommuting and "The Green Lantern"

In Brian Palmer’s  (not "Brian de Palma") “The Green Lantern” column in the Washington Post (no relation to the Washington DC bar/disco) in the Washington Post on Tuesday Morning, Sept. 7, makes a good point for “Traffic Tuesday”, the first day after summer vacations at Martha’s Vineyard end. His story is “Environmental benefits of telecommuting are not universal” and he doesn’t mean “NBC Universal”. The link is here.

He calculates the carbon dioxide, “Venusian” output of a typical day in a home office, compared to a cubicle at work, and finds that the economy of scale at work offsets the commuting carbon output for many people. (Those economies of scale seem even more relevant in hip workplaces like Google and Facebook.)

In fact, people who can take the Metro or subway to work, or at least do not have to use cars (other than electric cars or hybrids) probably save more carbon output by going to work. That raises an interesting question about high-density living. In urban jobs, people who live in the City or within easy public transit distance can put in more hours easily, a fact not lost on some employers. In the past, this set of affairs actually worked to the benefit of childless or LGBT employees, who often did take up the slack in crunch time and became more “valuable” (or perhaps taken advantage of).

In Minneapolis it was possible to walk to many jobs on the Skyway if you lived in one of the downtown apartments, especially the Churchill. Even on foot, one could be at work at ING in five minutes, and at the Minnesota Orchestra in 15 minutes, with no carbon output (other than one’s own breath).

In IT, it’s being on call that is the hooker, and that usually means now a company laptop at home, which preferably has a home wireless network router connected to broadband cable, for multiple computers (keeping work, personal, and kids all separate). That can mean that the employee is using his own cable for work (even in a salaried position), which in rare cases could involve overage issues, as discussed before on my network neutrality blog. It could also raise questions about network security, but corporate laptops for production support would normally have top-line firewalls for outgoing protection from wardriving.

This doesn’t include discussion of some home customer service jobs, like Alpine and Liveops, where the employee must use his or her own computer and connection, and do almost all work from home.

When I was an IT employee, I had a legal conflict of interest rule that any computers in my apartment had to be my own. That didn’t matter because in Minneapolis I could walk to work on the Skyway. I would not need to follow that rule today. I don’t mind saying publicly that my feet could see ING again, or Census, or an orchestra, or a school system.

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