A recent court decision allowed federal officials to resume processing visas offered to the many seasonal workers providing the labor behind the U.S. seafood industry. The prospect of a visa stoppage sent a panic through many seafood businesses in the mid-Atlantic region, who've come to depend on the visa program to fill manual labor jobs like picking crabs and shucking oysters. We explore why the visa program was caught in limbo and what's at stake for the seafood industry as things move forward.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer sparked an uproar last week when she said employees at her company would no longer be able to work from home. In a country where a growing number of workers telecommute, some said the move was unfair and unwise, while others applauded her effort to build an in-person culture of innovation. Tech Tuesday explores the debate over telework and the tools to work well at home, from hardware to software and security to accountability.
- Bianca Bosker Executive Tech Editor, The Huffington Post
- Liam Martin Founder, Staff.com
- David Graziano Director for Security and Unified Access for the U.S. Public Sector, Cisco
- Danette Campbell Senior Advisor for Telework, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
- Karina Ricks Principal, Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. Last week, the CEO at Yahoo caused an uproar when she said employees can no longer work from home. For the good of the struggling Internet company, she wants workers communicating and collaborating in person.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISome analysts say it's a savvy move to rebuild a culture of innovation, but critics have piled on, saying it's unfair and unwise to ban telecommuting. Either way, the controversy points out a new reality of the 21st century workforce. A growing number of people work at least some of the time from home. Encrypted networks and high-def video teleconferencing are among the many tech tools that make it easier and more secure to telework.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut if you were the boss, you may still have doubts about what's actually going on when workers are out of sight. How do you know they're not playing videogames or posting updates on Facebook, and how does your staff build a spirit of collaboration and innovation over the Internet? This Tech Tuesday, we're looking at Yahoo's move to call in its workers and the best practices for employees who do work from home.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Joining us now by phone from New York is Bianca Bosker, executive tech editor with The Huffington Post. Bianca Bosker, thank you for joining us.
MS. BIANCA BOSKERMy pleasure. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDILast week, someone at Yahoo leaked an internal memo to employees that puts an end to telecommuting. What does the memo actually say?
BOSKERThe memo basically says that the company, in the interest of communication collaboration, wants people back at their desks. You know, it makes the point that over the kind of accidental run-ins in the hallway or, you know, conversations you might strike up next to the coffee machine, people get a lot of ideas and brainstorm. And that's ultimately helpful for the company. So basically, it's fascinating, right? Here, we have a company out of Silicon Valley in the iPhone-enabled Internet age actually calling people back to their desks.
NNAMDIThere's been a lot of debate over why Yahoo wants employees back to their desks. As you say, how did CEO Marissa Mayer make this decision, and what's she trying to accomplish at Yahoo?
BOSKERWell, I think it's important to look broadly at where Yahoo is right now as a company. They're still a powerhouse in Silicon Valley, but they're clearly not where they used to be. You know, traffic and kind of an audience to some of their key properties, like Yahoo Mail, like their homepage, like Yahoo Search have been declining, which is concerning for a company that makes a lot of money off of advertising.
BOSKERSo, you know, Marissa has come in. She's the new CEO, and she has to show that she can really kick-start the company and turn things around. So I think this seems to be an effort to really do that, to say, you know, if one of the things that needs to happen to make this a striving successful company and put it back on top is to have people actually sitting in their chairs in their cubicles, she's going to make that call.
BOSKERAnd the interesting thing is, you know, Marissa Mayer is someone who really likes to make decisions with data. And there's been some talk of the fact that she may have looked at the virtual private networks, the VPNs, to see whether people who were working remotely were really checking in or not and logging in remotely from home.
BOSKERAnd apparently, what she found is they were not. So, you know, here we have a CEO who, again, likes to use data to make decisions, who may ultimately have seen that all the time that people were "working from home," they really were not.
NNAMDIBut, of course, she also worked at Google. What's the culture like at Google?
BOSKERSo Google has created a campus that basically takes care of every conceivable need so that employees don't really ever have to go home. So, you know, Google I think, you know, definitely doesn't have that sort of ban on working from home, but they've, you know, created a place, you've got three meals a day. Occasionally, you know, you can even haircuts on the Google offices.
BOSKERA lot of perks, which, on the one hand, make it an attractive place and help it attract talent in Silicon Valley, and, on the other, allow them to really keep their employees there for longer periods of time. You know, if you're able to drop off your dry-cleaning or have dinner at Google, that might keep you in the office a few more hours that you might otherwise have spent hanging around your apartment.
NNAMDIBianca, critics were quick to denounce the decision at Yahoo to force workers back to their desks. What is the work at home culture like at Yahoo and in Silicon Valley? How is it perceived?
BOSKERSo in general, there tends to be a flexibility broadly speaking in the tech world around letting people work remotely. You know, I think it's definitely not a place where, you know, the tech field is not a place -- I mean, first of all, you look at companies coming out of Silicon Valley, they're the ones on the leading edge of changing the way we communicate. I mean, they help us to find new ways to connect with each other online, whether it's Facebook or apps or, you know, our smartphones.
BOSKERBut generally, what you find is that it's not a nine, you know, a nine-to-five culture. At least, it's more of kind of 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. culture or nine-to-nine culture. It's a place where people really do generally get to enjoy a degree of freedom in terms of working remotely, setting some of their hours. Of course, that's not universal but...
NNAMDIYeah, because somebody was saying work from home at Yahoo was code for take a paid day off.
BOSKERYeah. Absolutely. And there's also talk that some people at Yahoo are actually happy to hear that she did this that the fact that now it makes it easier to actually get in touch with some of their colleagues and work with them. There's also some scuttlebutt that maybe this is a move to sort of clean house a bit that this might be, yeah, her way of sort of, you know, getting rid of people that don't really have the commitment to come in day in, day out and really give it their all.
BOSKERSo it's definitely complicated, and, I mean, it seems to be at least what their leadership thinks as the right move for the company at this point in time. But absolutely, it's caught a lot of fire from people outside who really I think bristle at the idea that they wouldn't be able to spend the morning working from, you know, the couch in their living room.
NNAMDIBianca Bosker is executive tech editor with The Huffington Post. Bianca, thank you so much for joining us.
BOSKERYeah. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio is David Graziano. He is with Cisco. David Graziano, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID GRAZIANOThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Danette Campbell, senior adviser for telework at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Danette, thank you for joining us.
MS. DANETTE CAMPBELLThank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone is Liam Martin. He is the founder and CMO of Staff.com. Liam Martin, thank you for joining us.
MR. LIAM MARTINThanks for having me.
NNAMDIDavid, I'll start with you. You come at this question from two angles. You're a teleworker at a company that sells systems that help enable teleworking. Tell us first about your own home office. What devices and tech tools do you use to work from home?
GRAZIANOSure. So my home office has a router in my home office where I plug a Cisco phone in, and I also plug in a Cisco high-definition camera. That enables me to when people call me that the phone rings in my office. It also rings in my home office and my work office. It also rings on my cellphone, so it's kind of a single number reach.
NNAMDIYou can choose which one to answer.
GRAZIANOAnd people have no idea where they're reaching me. The high-def camera allows me to video in anytime, anywhere at any organization within Cisco. For instance, I was talking earlier today about how I high-def into a colleague in Saudi Arabia at 5 a.m. in the morning and have that conversation. So, for me, it works really well because I've got the VPN hookup where I can immediately access the Cisco corporate infrastructure. I've got the telephone. I've got high-def. And then I also have wireless throughout my house. So I have an iPad that accesses the corporate network...
NNAMDIWherever you are.
GRAZIANOWhere I am, upstairs, reading a book, and I'm thinking, wow, I think I'll check email really quick, which doesn't always make my wife happy.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to you can call to join the conversation. Do you work from home? What tech equipment do you use? Or are you an employer with workers who telecommute? What has been your experience? 800-433-8850 or you can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. Danette Campbell, you're the telework coordinator for the Patent and Trademark Office. You also work at home yourself one day a week. What's in your home office, and how do you connect to the main office from there?
CAMPBELLAt the United States Patent and Trademark Office, we all have what they call the universal laptop, so we're not duplicating equipment. That laptop can come home with us if, in fact, we have a signed telework agreement in place. And so basically at home, I have a docking station, ergonomic keyboard. I take my laptop home. I basically plug it in. I have a headset, which I also plug in to my laptop, change the icon on my desktop to the little computer, iPad, so I'm receiving voice -- through voice over IP, and I'm ready to go. It's seamless. It's easy, and it's painless.
NNAMDILiam, you run a company of 48 people located around the world, and you've only met four of those people in person. Explain what Staff.com does and how you use a variety of Skype chats to keep everyone connected?
MARTINSo Staff.com is really the first online staffing agency. We only focus on placing remote employees in positions. So a company in San Francisco can hire employees from Europe, from Asia, from Canada, from all over the world and bring that labor virtually to their office. For us, we really built a company that can work anywhere. So, as an example, my co-founder is in Australia right now, and he usually spends about three months in a country at a time.
MARTINSo he's been doing that for the past four to five years, is able to operate the company with any type of trouble simply because of the tools that we have in place. So the biggest one would be Skype. That's my main sort of command panel to manage all these different employees. And we actually have chat groups based off different silos, so we'll have our search engine optimizers, our marketers, our developers, our HR. people, our recruiters all in different chat groups. And then I just jump between groups and communicate with each of those people either through chat, or we go directly into a video call.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
NNAMDIPeter in Washington, D.C., you're on the air. Go ahead, please, Peter.
NNAMDIPeter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERYeah. Thank you, Kojo. I work for an international company in developing countries though. A lot of these guys are talking about developed infrastructure. I'd be interested to find out what other companies do in terms of connecting with people all over the world, in Africa, Middle East, Asia and underdeveloped countries.
PETERThat's number one. Number two is Skype is the easiest way. The guy who's got the Cisco network seems to me is spending a lot more money than maybe is necessary if you just use Skype as the last caller talked about. And, you know, I'll hang up and listen. Thanks.
NNAMDIOK. First, you, David Graziano.
GRAZIANOPersonally, I believe Skype is an awesome medium, especially because of the accessibility. Personally, I personally moved to high-definition video because I was able to get into the house, and it also enabled me to tap into Cisco's telepresence rooms across the globe. So it's more of a corporate response. I have other friends at other companies, and their companies use Skype. And I have plenty of friends who use Skype to connect with their families. I would say that it seems as though Skype is also a very reasonable response to even a -- for even a small company to video enable the connectivity.
NNAMDIAnd, Liam, you seem to use Skype fairly extensively.
MARTINYeah. We use Skype because it's a very low-cost product for us. I believe it costs about $60 a year to have a Skype line that can also call out to regular numbers. So our sales team uses Skype quite a bit. One other tool that we've been using recently is Google Hangout, and that allows us to really provide higher definition video meetings for up to, I believe, 12 people in Google Hangout. And that's been fantastic for us to just do sort of our weekly roundabout meetings. Yesterday, I did seven meetings, all of which were through Google Hangout.
NNAMDIPeter, thank you very much for your call. Danette, your agency uses one model of telecommuting in which people take home a work-issued computer. Tell us about the evolution, if you will, of telework and the tools to do it at the Patent and Trademark Office.
CAMPBELLWell, you know, it's very interesting. telework at the Patent and Trademark Office started in 1997 with only 18 examining attorneys who worked from home a couple of days a week and then shared office space when they did come in to. At the time, the agency was located in Arlington, Va. Currently, you know, if you fast forward to 2013, we currently have 11,600 employees who work at the agency. And nearly 7,400 of these are working from home anywhere between one and five days a week.
CAMPBELLOf those 7,400, 4,013 are working from home, full time. Now, these full-time telework initiatives have enabled us to increase the number of total employees without securing additional office space or additional parking facilities. It's estimated that the agency has avoided securing nearly $22 million in real estate through as a direct result of all of the USPTO's full-time telework programs.
CAMPBELLBack in 1997, though, to answer your question more directly, we all had desktop computers. And in 1997, of course, this started in the trademark organization, they were able to deploy an IT individual to an examining attorneys home. Of course, when you've got 18 examining attorneys, of course, you can do that. They were all living in the Washington metropolitan area.
CAMPBELLSo again, fast forward to 2013, we provide ample training to all of our teleworkers. All of our managers, they get a non-IT training that speaks to communicating in a virtual environment, establishing expectations, defining metrics for performance. But we also have a very in-depth IT component of that training. So we train our people to take these laptops home, configure them. We teach them how to do troubleshooting so that when they get to a point where they can no longer troubleshoot their own machine, they will, in fact, get in touch with our helpdesk personnel.
CAMPBELLThey can take over the laptop to determine what the issues are. If, in fact, the helpdesk individual determines that, you know, nothing else can be remedied through this online session, if an employee is working outside of the 50-mile commuting radius, then the employee simply ships their laptop back to the USPTO campus. The helpdesk immediately ships them a laptop so that there is no downtime. You know, we're a production agency, so downtime is critical to us.
NNAMDIWho is eligible to telework?
CAMPBELLEligibility is determined by business unit and by position in the business unit, so it does vary from business unit to business unit.
NNAMDIAnd second question: Where is my office space when I've taken to teleworking at home? What happened to that spot I had in the office, that wonderful view with the, you know, the window in the corner office?
CAMPBELLOf course. When an employee decides that he or she wants to...
NNAMDII feel it coming. It's gone.
CAMPBELLWell, you know, let me just say that telework is still a voluntary initiative at the agency. And when an employee decides that he or she wants to participate in a full-time telework program, they relinquish their office space on the USPTO campus to work from home full time.
NNAMDISave you space then.
NNAMDIAbsolutely. So that enables us, of course, to bring on new hires without securing additional real estate. Now, you know, an agency or organization certainly is going to get their biggest bang for the buck with these hoteling or full-time telework initiatives. But many organizations are moving to an office sharing model where you have two employees or even more than that.
GRAZIANOThat's exactly what we did at Cisco...
GRAZIANO...is we moved to an office-sharing, pooled office space. And I can personally say that when they first talked about that, the office of the future, it scared the heck out of me. And I'm thinking, wow.
NNAMDII'm losing my spot.
GRAZIANOExactly. And the reality is it ended up being very good because, for instance, my team has a shared office space, which is, in essence, my office. Many of them also work at cubicles so the fact is is that their home office is a lot nicer than the cubicle. And the third thought -- if I could just kind of...
GRAZIANO...transfer into this -- we talked about it from the point of view of the employer. We're starting to talk about it from the point of view of the employee.
GRAZIANOThe fact is in the D.C. area, the average federal worker or the average worker able to telecommute will save $75 a week in commuting costs, which is about $4,000 a year. In addition to that, they'll save three to four hours by not commuting. And, you know, for instance, yesterday, I was sitting at home preparing for things instead of jumping in the car and commuting. And just the fact that I was able to avoid having to go through that grueling commute to and from the office, it was a blessing.
NNAMDIYet the average worker always, invariably these days, seems to have his or her own device, which is a subject we'll get into after we take a short break. We're contributing to the debate over telework and inviting your calls, 800-433-8850. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. We still have a few lines open. But you can also shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. What do you see as the pros and cons of working from home? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Tech Tuesday conversation on the debate over telework with Danette Campbell, senior advisor for telework at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. David Graziano is director for Security and Unified Access for the U.S. Public Sector at Cisco and Liam Martin is founder and CMO of Staff.com. You can call us at 800-433-8850. David Graziano, another model of teleworking is called BYOD. What does that stand for, and how does it work?
GRAZIANOBYOD stands for bring your own device. And in essence, it is -- it's me bringing my personal iPad to the office. What's been driving that is often employees of -- very often, starting with executives, getting an iPad for Christmas, showing up at the office and saying, I want to access the corporate network with my iPad. And it's been a huge influence across businesses around the country, in the education space and now starting with government over the last two years.
NNAMDIWell, with more people working at home and on their own devices, security is a growing concern. We've talked about VPNs earlier. Could you tell us what are the best security practices for telecommuters?
GRAZIANOSure. We'll start with the VPN.
NNAMDIVirtual private network?
GRAZIANOVirtual private network, an encrypted tunnel from your laptop at home to the corporate office. You also have the ability, if you want to step it up, to use hardware to do that. But let's just say that it's a piece of software sitting on your laptop that creates this encrypted tunnel into the office. On top of that, you have to log in, and the recommendation is often to log in with some sort of two-factor authentication, which would be a user I.D. and password and then something else on top of that.
GRAZIANOSometimes, it's a digital certificate. Sometimes, it's a secure I.D. from RSA or something like that. And in essence, what that does is that makes sure that the organization knows who you are and it reduces the risk of making sure that they now is accessing that network. On top of that is you look at the blend of BYOD. And as I use my tablet or my iPad to access the network, you also have the concerns about mobile device management.
GRAZIANOSo what that really means is if a user says, I want to use my corporate iPad or my personal iPad to access the network, the organization has the ability to push out a policy that says, well, then you must use mobile device management, which gives me the authority to wipe your device should it be stolen or lost which protects the organization further.
NNAMDILiam, one concern about teleworking is that you don't really know what your employees are doing at home. How do you tell if they're checking Facebook, playing "World of Warcraft" or doing their work?
MARTINFor us, we actually have tracking technology that can allow us to know how productive our employees are. Now, this is a voluntary software for most of our employees. However, with clients, i.e. with employers that work on Staff.com, they can get their employees to use this software or not. And simply what it does is it allows you to figure out exactly what you're doing during your workday.
MARTINSo I personally use it every single day. Right now, I currently have a radio show down as my specific task. I'll be able to show all the software and the activities that I was doing during that particular period later on when I review my particular workday. So I'll be able to see that I spent 87 minutes on Skype, three minutes on Google Maps, two minutes on Chrome, as an example.
NNAMDIDanette, if people are not sitting in offices, we mentioned earlier you don't need as much physical space for the workforce. Talk about the real cost savings on real estate.
CAMPBELLOh, well -- excuse me -- thank you for asking me that. As I had mentioned before, you know, we achieve a huge real estate cost avoidance based on our full-time telework programs. And at this particular point in time, you know, we're looking at an avoidance of about $22 million a year, simply because this is directly related to our full-time telework programs.
NNAMDIAnd during the break, you were talking earlier about the fact that examiners at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office don't get the job and immediately go into teleworking. They spend some time on campus first.
CAMPBELLThat is correct. And as I mentioned earlier, position eligibility is determined by the position and then, of course, the position in that business unit. Our patented examiners and trademark examining attorneys are basically production workers. The nature of their work is highly complex. So they examine on the USPTO campus for two years and received ample training before they have reached a level of independency, if you will, so that they can work from home fulltime.
CAMPBELLMost of all of the telework initiatives, whether it's a couple of days a week or a full-time telework program for patent examiners and trademark-examining attorneys, indicates that they must be at least at the GS-12 level and, again, have been on the USPTO campus for at least two years prior to being deployed for telework. But that's not the case for all of our employees at the agency because, of course, we have a variation of positions and grade levels there. Again, I just want to emphasize, it's contention upon the position and the position in that particular business unit.
NNAMDIAnd for those, say, examiners who live within a 50-mile radius, where do -- if they happen to be full-time telecommuters, where do they sit if they come into the office occasionally?
CAMPBELLWe have set aside hoteling suites. And these suites are basically 150 square foot office spaces with two complete work stations. When the examiner comes in, they can reserve space through an electronic concierge. They go to the hoteling space, they bring in their laptop, they dock it, and they can continue to work. Again, with the phone systems that they have, you know, those phones will follow them whether they've come in to the USPTO campus or they're working from their home address.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Janet in Great Falls, Va. Janet, your turn.
JANETHi. This is Janet. Kojo, it's a great show. I was an insurance appraiser for over 30 years, so I was actually working out in the field constantly. And we progressed from the old days when we worked with paper and pencil and used a payphone on the side of the building, all the way to where we were carrying our own laptops, and we're basically tracked constantly. And, well, I found two things.
JANETOne, the inside personnel, people who actually work in the offices, tended to think we weren't doing anything, and there was always this sort of tension between the two groups. And I think that's a problem that management has to address. And also, when we finally went to computers and had VPN systems, we were -- they were able to track us minute by minute as to what we were doing. At that point, they could tell if we were working or not working. So there was really no issue. But I...
NNAMDII'm glad you raised that because it allows me to ask, Danette Campbell, to what extent that perception may still persist in an agency as large as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office?
CAMPBELLWell, Kojo, at the United States Pattern and Trademark Office, telework is such a strong business strategy, and it's so much a part of our culture. As I mentioned earlier, you know, when we have 7,400 people working from home anywhere between one and five days a week, that's a huge percentage of our workforce, and people get it, supervisors get it. This is an initiative that is supported and embraced by our agency executives, our supervisors, our managers, and, of course, our employees.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, Janet, there will always be the jokes from the non-telecommuters. That's not going to go away. But I think David in Vienna has another perspective on what might be an upside for telecommuting. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHello. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes. We can.
DAVIDVery good. Well, my name -- I'm David, and I've been the editor of a magazine for the last nine years, and we were a completely virtual -- I prefer net-centric -- operation. And I've got to tell you that there are some great advantages to telecommuting. First off, people can work at their own (word?). I got to learn -- people, you know, you have some people who work at 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning, some people who will work on weekends. It didn't matter as long as they got their work in.
DAVIDAnd another advantage is (unintelligible) on office politics because if people weren't next to each other fighting all the time, you know, the point of personality conflicts that you might have in an office, or especially in newsroom because I run newsrooms, were mitigated. And some of the differences in personalities played out over many years as opposed to, you know, only in complaining to a manager over somebody taking a window seat. So there's a great, great advantage for management, in addition to (unintelligible) world.
NNAMDIClearly, the lack of office politics may be considered an upside, David. But I'm wondering, Liam, if, during the course of your experience, you have found that there is something to be gained from person to person collaboration.
MARTINThere definitely is. I would say that remote work is not the rule. So in some situations, it's definitely better to have people sit in one particular office. I would say executives or, in my case, people that are starting a startup, they need that type of very close interaction at the beginning. But as you grow, you need to be able to do that work as efficiently and as quickly as you humanly possible, and, to me, that's the remote work model.
MARTINWith regards to the inter-office politics, I actually just -- to Professor Bloom who wrote a recent large-scale study on remote telework and he actually found out -- I believe this was a data set of 20,000 employees, he found that remote employees were 13 percent more productive and had a 50 percent lower attrition rate than their in-office counterparts. And how I extrapolate that is, again, to inter-office politics.
MARTINI believe that the biggest problem for people quitting isn't necessarily that the work is too hard. It's that they don't like one particular person in the office. They're having -- they're having these office problems with their boss, with their managers, and telework or remote working really cuts down on that problem.
NNAMDIDavid, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this Tech Tuesday conversation. So we're still taking your calls at 800-433-8850. How do you feel about Yahoo's decision that all its workers need to be on-site starting in June? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. We're talking telecommuting: the debate over telework with David Graziano. He is director for security and unified access for the U.S. public sector with Cisco. Danette Campbell is senior adviser for telework at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And joining us in studio now is Karina Ricks, principal at NelsonNygaard, a planning, consulting firm based in San Francisco. Karina, thank you for joining us.
MS. KARINA RICKSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIStill with us is Liam Martin. He is founder and CMO of Staff.com. Karina, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo has taken a lot of flak for her decision to end telecommuting. But a lot of people say she's got a point, that corporate culture is enhanced when people have opportunities for casual interactions that can spark ideas, collaboration.
NNAMDIYou are the sole employee in Washington for a San Francisco-based consulting firm, and initially you worked from home. Why did you decide to rent a space at the Affinity Lab on U Street in D.C.? It's a joint office space for small startup companies and other solo practitioners or very small business. Why?
RICKSWell, I think that the Affinity Lab and other co-working environments like that offer an opportunity for that spontaneous interaction that happens with people. It can happen at cafes. It can happen at other kinds of places. But that is a great benefit of the co-working environment and something that can also spark the creativity. It doesn't have to happen in your own corporate environment, but can happen in these kinds of interactive environments as well.
NNAMDIWhy did you felt -- why did you feel that you needed or wanted it?
RICKSWell, working at home is great for focused, quiet time, but it can also be -- too much quiet can be a bit of a distraction, at least for someone like me. So having that kind of dynamic interaction was actually a positive environment for the work environment.
NNAMDIProof that human beings are social by nature. Your planning firm recommends that communities incorporate telecommuting to help deal with transportation and land use challenges. What do you tell clients about telework?
RICKSWell, telework is a great way to help manage some of the traffic congestion that regions like the Washington region experience. We just saw an article this morning about the mega-commutes, that people are driving over 60 miles 90 minutes a day in their commutes. This is great for the small towns that are struggling and some other economic conditions where they want to keep workers and keep the economy going.
RICKSBut that commute adds a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. It adds a lot of stress to the worker and adds a lot of nonproductive time. Allowing telecommuting for at least a short period of time, one or two days a week, takes those cars off the road, increases the productivity of the worker, generally increases their happiness level and really helps reduce some of the traffic congestion.
RICKSThat can happen also if you allow flexible work schedules where they're telecommuting just a portion of the day and making their drive trips at less congested periods of the time.
NNAMDIHow much time on a daily basis do you spend in your office at the Affinity Lab? Do you keep a strict regular schedule?
RICKSI do keep a general schedule. I spend probably 10 hours a day, which is not necessarily the intent there, but it does allow a lot of work to get done. I do also telecommute then in the evening after leaving the Affinity Lab. So I do both on an average day.
NNAMDILiam, your company is based on people working from home, but you have said that you wish that your business partner were under the same roof as you rather than on, well, a different continent. Why is that?
MARTINWell, in terms of us being able to make large-scale decisions, I'm constantly brought situations that require me to make a decision quite quickly. And unfortunately, without having my co-founder or the rest of my executive team directly around me, I have to make that decision independently, and sometimes it's the wrong decision. So having an executive team together, I think, is a good move.
MARTINGenerally, I don't believe that it necessarily restricts us, but it definitely allows us to -- it provides us a little bit of a slower rate of movement than somebody who's all under the same roof. So, for us, we feel like the executive team is a good move, having them all under the same roof. But having everyone past that, located remotely, is definitely an advantage.
NNAMDIDavid Graziano, is there a virtual equivalent of kicking your partner's shin under the table?
GRAZIANOI'd like to propose that this is potentially about balance because very often we all see the benefits of teleworking. And also as a leader or a boss, I've made decisions. OK, everybody needs to fly into D.C., or everybody needs to fly into San Jose. On the flip side of that, they're very often -- we'll get together over WebEX, you know, a lower quality video or even the higher def.
GRAZIANOThe technology almost doesn't matter. It's just that connection and collaboration that happens, whether it's over WebEX or getting into the office. One final thing, it's potentially also about culture, so the culture of your organization being reflective of these types of decisions.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Pepper in Washington, D.C. Pepper, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PEPPERHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call.
PEPPERI wanted to share. I was with my company for 10 years, and at a 10-year point, I switched jobs within the organization, started reporting to a new business line. And I was told, you have to work from home. They gave me a laptop, they gave me a BlackBerry at the time, and I went home to work. And I never would have picked that in a million years. But I'm...
PEPPERI'm in a sales job, so, you know, I really wasn't in the office that much anyway, but now I'm here four years later. And I'm thinking I don't know if I could ever work in an office again. I save money on clothing. I save money on food. At the time I started, my son was in high school. I'd get a call at 11 in the morning -- Mom, I left my book under the bed -- you know, so I could take care of that.
PEPPERAnd it just -- it's giving me a lot of flexibility. I'm a lot more productive. I'm not caught up in office politics. And, again, when I'm out on appointments all day, I can come home, eat dinner and then, you know, return a few emails or even on the weekends, as someone said earlier. My iPhone is my office phone, so it's with me all the time. That's the phone number on my business card. There is a physical address because the company does have a physical address here where, you know, if I get any snail mail, that's where it would go.
PEPPERBut I report to someone in Ohio. Previously I reported to someone in Delaware, and I don't get the, you know, people who are sitting at home playing games. I have a VPN. They know what I'm doing. At the press of a button, they can see where I am or, I mean, as far as, you know, my online activity anyway. So -- and, again, we have maybe an operations call once a week and a sales call once a week. We collaborate. We just pick up the phone or email, and people talk. I have...
NNAMDISo this is something that initially you thought that you would not get used to, but now you have become so used to it that you cannot imagine working in any other environment.
PEPPERYeah. It's a little troubling, but I will say that working from home can be somewhat isolating, and that's why I was a little -- I was concerned when I started. I wouldn't ever get up in my jammies and fuzzy bunny slippers.
NNAMDIAnd I think that's what Karina was fighting against, yeah.
PEPPERYeah. So that's the only thing. So I do make an effort to do a lot of networking stuff professionally.
NNAMDIPepper, thank you very much for your call. Danette.
CAMPBELLYes. At the Patent and Trademark Office, considering that we have more than 4,000 people working from home full time, employee engagement is a topic that is certainly top of mind for all our agency executives, managers and supervisors. And we deploy lots of different techniques, if you will, to keep people engaged. You know, now, we also try to keep people in the brick-and-mortar environment engaged as well.
CAMPBELLBut some of the things that we use to engage our remote population is something that's called in the trademark's organization TM People. This is an online magazine, and it highlights employees, their activities outside of the office, you know, perhaps who's getting married, who's gotten another degree, you know, those conversations that may have take in place while you're walking to the cafeteria or going to grab a coffee.
CAMPBELLThose are now showcased in this online magazine so everyone can stay in touch. And one of the things also that I wanted to say, in one of our patent's business units, there is a supervisory patent examiner who had his team working virtually. And so what he decided to do was start holding these virtual lunches. And so the first one, he found out -- I believe there were eight people participating. This was a pilot program.
CAMPBELLAnd so he determined -- I believe it was sandwich shops or pizza shops in the area of each employee and had the pizza actually delivered to their homes, while they were having their virtual -- their online meeting, if you will. So there are many ways that we can engage employees, but it's important, as I said, not just to engage our remote workforce but to engage our employees that are in the brick-and-mortar environment as well.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from someone, who says that, "I find that employers of a certain age tend to be against telework because they have problems using tools that monitor productivity." I don't think Marissa Mayer can be described as an employer of a certain age, but here is Dan in Falls Church, Va. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANYes. I wanted to say that I am teleworker as is my wife, which creates some traffic jams around the house occasionally. But we both go into the office couple of days a week. We tried to alternate our schedules at home. And one of the reasons is so that we can have that interaction and partly so that we can come up with better ideas.
DANMs. Mayer's, I think, spot on in that, bringing people into the office -- I don't know about five days a week. But I definitely go into the office a couple of days a week to catch up on things that I wouldn't hear about otherwise or, you know, things that are going on that I could get blindsided, I supposed, later on or opportunities that's happening more than once.
NNAMDII'd like to hear all of our panelists on this. So I'll start with you, Liam. What do you think about Yahoo's decision not to allow telework?
MARTINI can understand her decision. I can definitely understand her decision. However, I feel that it's somewhat of 20th century way to manage employees. As we've heard from all the callers during the last hour, the remote work works. And I don't know what kind of metrics she is looking at, but I know that every metric that we collect shows that normal employees are more productive than their local counterparts.
MARTINI don't believe that you should only have remote work. I believe it should be a mixed, and I believe there should be fluidity between that. So, as an example, we do actually connect one day a week locally with my local employees here. But, in general, we all work from home, and we prefer that. So I feel like if you've already got employees that are productive, that are, you know, doing a good job for Yahoo, you should keep them exactly where they are and not pull them out of that environment and place them in another one that they're not accustomed to.
NNAMDIKarina Ricks, what's your take on the Yahoo ban?
RICKSWell, I don't want to speculate on what the reasons behind that company's decision are, but I do suspect that it's probably a temporary decision as that company is repositioning itself. I think that as a tech firm, they have a vested interest in seeing telework in telecommunications continue to expand and innovate. This is probably a move to assess where the company is, what they're doing, but I do suspect that it's probably a temporary move because they will need to deal with issues of employee movement and mobility.
NNAMDIDanette, your take?
CAMPBELLWell, Kojo, I'm not familiar with the Yahoo business model, but I can tell you that through telework at the Patent and Trademark Office, we achieve enhanced employee production, real estate cost avoidance, employee recruitment and retention, certainly enhanced continuity of operations planning. And it has a positive impact on our environment and certainly traffic congestion in the Washington Metropolitan region.
NNAMDIDavid, how often does your team work together in person? And what's you view of the Yahoo uproar?
GRAZIANOIn person, I would say we're probably together one or two days a week, and we don't typically enforcing it. There is just kind of an overlap that happens. From a Cisco perspective, there are so many organizations that support teleworking, and there are many that do not. At Cisco, we've created an environment where our employees can work the way they want to work, fully leveraging our telework and mobile solutions. I believe that it's really -- we talked earlier about balance. It's a combination of balancing culture and as a leader what she wants to accomplish for her organization.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, when we think of the weather that is approaching that's coming here over the course of the next two days, I guess it contend to heighten one's appreciation of telecommuting because so many people will not be able to go into jobs that they are expected to go into over the course of the next two days.
NNAMDIAnd many of those people conceivably could have been being quite productive if they happen to be telecommuting. Thank you very much for your call, Dan. Here now is another David in Washington, D.C. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHi, Kojo. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, David.
DAVIDI work for a company called Regus, and we're a world-wide company doing almost exactly like what you're talking about today. We have over 1,600 locations around the world where people telecommute. For example, if somebody has to work in D.C., they can stop at one of our centers and work in Frederick or they can work in Bethesda as opposed to driving all the way down and all the way back.
DAVIDAnd also on a part-time basis, we have a lot of clients that are big like the Booz Allen Hamiltons of the world and the federal government, local governments that use us for office space all the time. And that's because of the incredible flexibility and something that I think is very, very interesting that you've been talking about and that is that from an economic perspective, as you look at the commercial real estate market, which has remained fairly slacked over the last couple of years, our model is growing leaps and bounds just because things are changing so much.
DAVIDWe have clients that might have their headquarters in New York or L.A., but their employees are working in D.C. or in Virginia or on the other side of the country because of the level of flexibility.
NNAMDIWell, you raised an issue that we have not had a chance to discuss and won't have because we're running out of time, and that is how one handles time zone differences. But I'd like to ask, first you, Karina, what do you see as the next big thing for telecommuting? What will everyone who works at home be do -- using or doing five years from now do you think?
RICKSI think that telecommuting will continue to expand and enhance. I think it really allows -- we see more and more that workers are choosing where there want to work before they're necessarily choosing -- I'm sorry -- choosing where they want to live before they're choosing where they want to work. Telecommuting really enables you to live in Bozeman, Mont., or live wherever it is that you'd like to be and telecommute virtually anywhere in the world and whatever industry that you're interested in.
NNAMDILiam, in 10 seconds or less, what do you see as the next big thing?
MARTINI see us in five to 10 years instead of meeting on Skype and Google Hangouts being able to literally step -- meet in my living room and have holographic representations of all the employees. I believe that really remote work for us at Staff.com. The issue is not necessarily that we don't have enough employers, it's that we don't have talent, so the employment is...
NNAMDILiam, I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Liam Martin, David Graziano, Danette Campbell and Karina Ricks, thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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