Now is the autumn of our discontent

Perhaps not coincidentally, my swift change of “routine” and lifestyle started when I found out about Second Life. At that time I already was a telecommuter — living 1000 km away from my company’s HQ, on an island in the middle of the Atlantic — and it worked rather well. I didn’t want to get back to my “early” life, of spending hours in traffic, and wasting precious moments at the office while “nothing happened”, when I could be doing something rather more productive. After all, it’s not the amount of time you spend at the office that makes a difference, but the results of the way you employ that time: telecommunications technology can bridge all distances so easily these days that it doesn’t really make any sense to pretend otherwise.

Some companies I work with have introduced different pricing for their customers. If all the work can be done remotely — and it’s up to the client to decide if they will open their firewall ports to allow that — it’s charged cheaply, and maintenance can be made around the clock, weekends included. If they insist to see a person arriving at their premises, they charge extra — plus commuting costs — and they’re stuck with a 9-to-5 schedule, which has to be pre-arranged in advance. A lot of companies are still stupid enough to prefer that. Somehow, if they cannot look eye-to-eye to the person doing a job, it isn’t “real” work.

Now I guess I’ve been overly optimistic a few years back. As early as 1995, I seriously believed that the Internet would dramatically change the way we worked, because, well, physical presence would not be necessary. I remember having a lot of suppliers and clients back then where we only physically met to go and have lunch together — all the work was always done remotely, and it was silly to think otherwise. Except for training — we didn’t have Second Life yet! — any kind of job in the service industry could be done remotely with surprising ease. It was not just more convenient, it had lots of advantages — commuting time would disappear and be turned into “work time” instead. You could multitask among clients: while you waited for something to finish (say, installing a new application, compiling some software, printing out a report) you could swiftly and effortlessly switch to a different client, and start doing work for them, too. Multitasking is not exactly a new way to work: lawyers, for instance, multitask all the time — they take phone calls while writing documents for their clients, and charge both for the same time slot.

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