2012, Telecommuting, Video Conferencing: Why do sick people still come to work?
I arrived to work on the third day of 2012 only to find that half of the people in this vast room with seemingly well over 150 employees and contractors had managed to catch some sort of cold, flu or other reason to keep the coffers of Vick’s and Robitussin filled to the brim. It occurred to me that something is clearly amiss as this is the Silicon Valley, the hotspot of technology. In the battle of iOS v. Android, the winner and loser will be only a few miles away from each other on Highway 85. To my surprise, here I am, among dozens of folks that should otherwise be at home, nursing illness but are instead here.
A quick walk around the low-profile desk divisions, an open invitation for catapulting sickness inducing mucus overboard while coughing during a not… quite… finished e-mail, revealed that the vast majority of folks have smart phones, albeit there are one or two holdouts still with clamshell phones and Blackberries. In fact, in a completely unscientific survey, I would guess that 90% or more of the folks have phones with front facing cameras, specifically marketed for their ability to video conference or Facetime. Similarly, a high proportion of desks have either a Macbook of some sort, iPad 2, or Android tablet with cameras. Rear-facing, front-facing these things are everywhere including in conference rooms with Tandberg units that I see get used once every eighteen months. Clearly cameras are everywhere and everyone here has access to e-mail, conferencing clients and a computer so we can capture the thoughts, voices, and facial expressions of people while they telecommute sick. Endpoints are not the issue here.
I next turned my investigation to the link. If more or less everyone has a capable endpoint, the transmission mechanism between endpoints is another logical place to look. Granted, I am not a phone expert, but probably about 70% of the folks here have phones built in the past twelve months, and therefore I would suspect are 3G capable (if not 4G or “AT&T 4G/3G+”.) Okay, so video takes a lot of bandwidth, and I can see people deciding that that transmission method would be inconvenient from an expense perspective. But wait, upon further polling, I see the median amount of time folks are spending driving in is in the 20 minute range at distances over 15 miles. To me, I see the purely capital outlay portion of telecommuting being $3.60/ gallon of regular unleaded gasoline plus $0.10/ mile for car depreciation and throw in a few cents for other consumables such as brakes, oil, tires and the like. I wouldn’t be surprised if people spent $8 getting to the office. Even in the world of very high pay-per-use and overage charges that U.S. based carriers have finally started to bring in-line with other parts of the world, $8 buys a decent amount of bandwidth, completely forgetting the 40 minutes that could be spent nursing sicknesses rather than driving about.
Of course, this is Silicon Valley. People here love technology and the Internet because our local economy relies upon it. Virtually everyone has a broadband connection at home and companies know that a fast internet connection increases the speed at which Google searches can be substituted for IQ points. Connectivity is not an issue and virtually all of those devices with cameras can connect to a WiFi IP network. No, along with the endpoints, the connection cannot be the issue. In a last ditch effort to blame technology for the onslaught of intelligent flu viruses at work, I did a final check, sure enough electricity in the area was still on.
This left me in an uncomfortably lonely chasm where one has the thought that maybe it is not the endpoint technology, but instead a PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair for those not in-the-know) situation. Of course, it does make one wonder if the technology is there why do people not use it and instead decide to lay even the healthiest of immune systems under an intense siege when they make the morning journey to work.
Maybe this is not as implausible as it seems. I can clearly remember a time when George Jetson (in a show set in 2062 and onward) would grace my buzzing tube television with images of both video conferencing and also jumping in his flying car on the way to Spacely’s Sprockets just to push a big red button. With that in mind, I can only surmise that there may be more to this whole “going to work” thing, even when succumbing to the most dastardly fits of coughing that keeps people away from using videoconferencing. Maybe people just enjoy trips to local pharmacies to get remedies or perhaps really like artificial orange, cherry, lemon and other flavors us. I know startups use it, I know traveling consultants at work use iPad’s and Facetime to say goodnight to their children as Apple has intended them to, I just cannot understand why it is not used more in a professional setting. Of course, jobs in fields such as retail, construction and the like are not really candidates for video conferencing now, but making a sick trip to the office seems difficult at best.
Alas, after an ever so modestly exhaustive exercise in deductive reasoning I must conclude that my wish for 2012 is that we can promote health effective uses of videoconferencing. We have the cameras, devices and connectivity on the road (please do not video conference and drive), at work and at home.