I hate commuting. The variables which conspire to make the commuting experience miserable are myriad. Yet, the demands of the office are still such that my regular presence is required. Most people still have jobs that prevent them from working from home, and many of the ones who do have jobs which could be done from home simply can't because of a poor home-office environment or lack of discipline.
I work from home on occasion and have been doing so for 12 years now. I find that I can write papers much more effectively from home because nobody bothers me there, but other than writing papers, I do not have a compelling reason to telecommute. However, these days between energy crises and global warming it is getting easier to justify.
I must admit that I am a huge fan of 'going green,' but I often find some of the numbers associated with the environmental costs to be a little suspicious. According to this article from the Consumer Electronics Association: http://www.ce.org/Press/CurrentNews/press_release_detail.asp?id=11350, I probably saved the environment from some 1320 tons of carbon emissions by working from home over the last 12 years. Is that good? I don't know. The only pure sources of carbon I come into contact with in a given day might be pencil leads. That sure seems like a lot of pencil leads. In looking up the chemical composition for charcoal I find that it is mostly carbon: C7H4O. A 20 pound bag of charcoal is perhaps 2 cubic feet, so perhaps I have saved the earth from enough carbon emissions to fill my office 4 times over. Is that good? I don't know. Should I work at home more often? I sure would like to.
I think that we need to come up with a better unit of measure than carbon footprint because the variables that go into that calculation make my commute seem simple. However, I am convinced that I make less carbon sitting at home than I make traveling to the office and sitting there and I don't need a hypothetical carbon calculator to tell me that.
Whether I believe in the potential carbon reduction of telecommuting or not doesn't change my preference for working at home. The challenge is to overcome the need for my presence in the office. Video comes to mind. Certainly, using video conferencing would allow me to establish some level of 'presence.' I find an average video conference to be more satisfying than a 'good' audio conference, mostly because it allows me to gauge the reactions of the people I am talking to and to see that they aren't really just typing emails while listing on the bridge. But impromptu video conferences are still not as easy as driving a car, (though far safer) and sometimes can be more frustrating than sitting in traffic. We definitely need to improve the ease of use in video conferencing.
I think the trend towards high end 'telepresence' is cool, but this is not what I am talking about. Telepresence is a very structured thing in carefully controlled rooms. I get a kick from a lot of telepresence commercials I see these days that show people in tents or office workers on big screen TVs that seem to move from room to room. No, I am talking about making video conferencing as easy as dialing a phone and viewing people on practical terminals with decent clarity. My feeling is that the high-end stuff has to be successful first and then, just like you used to be able to hear a pin drop on a voice call, the need for low-cost convenience will take over and people will lower their expectations making video conferencing ubiquitous. It is coming soon, and when it does, I hope to be working from home while saving the planet.
Brian - thanks for writing this blog! You saved me a lot of time - Ha! I've been experimenting quite a bit with 'teleworking' as I like to call it*. Not sure how much carbon I'm saving, but time, gas money, and the ability to say hello to the kids when they roll in off the schoolbus is all good to me. And I really think it benefits from Unified Communications capabilities in general.
Our media gateway product group has been proactively working with UC tools - Microsoft Communicator for presence, IM, VoIP and Video conference over the past 6 months - and it truly enhances the teleworking experience. I see it as a great way to 'go green'. And I for one believe myself to be twice as productive when working from home (since I know my boss will read this.)
And the UC green benefits can certainly extend to the corporate bottom line as well for full time teleworkers. By extending a PBX extension over a VPN to the teleworker an enterprise can reduce some additional home office expense by leveraging the corporate voice trunks and rates, reducing mobile phone use, and perhaps eliminating home office PSTN line service allowances (...sorry sales guys).
Combined solutions from Dialogic, Microsoft, IBM and others, can be done without a PBX upgrade as well. So no big new IP-PBX capex is required, and less old PBX iron in the landfill is rather green too!
So I'm expecting that UC for teleworkers will be a strong market opportunity for UC solution providers this year.
* Plantronics recently ran a contest to rename telecommuter and issued a press release with the winning neame: "Cloudworker".