New Virtual Office Software Used by Feds

Althouht I am skeptical of the managerial talent of the  Federal government,  one thing they can do well is utilize new technology (the government has the potential to do this, but rarely does so).  According to this article in FCW.com the FAA has

Dubbed the Knowledge Service Network (KSN), it represents an office environment, complete with doors and desks….

KSN’s core technology is Microsoft SharePoint Services, which handles document management, task tracking, library functions, calendar updates and other functions related to scheduling and training. 

The Federal government can be a great incubator of new technology since contracts with the Feds allows tech firms to get a reliable cash flow stream.  Once the technology has proven itself, the private sector can jump on board.  The software described above seems like a good effort at replicating a real-life office environment online. However, virtual office software will have to offer an office environment that is vastly improved and very different from the bricks and mortar office.  For example, many modules in the software should be automatically structured to facilitate process management.  This requires more than just clever software though, it also requires effective business process management, which the is something the Federal government probably won’t utilize.

July 11, 2006 at 5:31 am 4 comments

The End of the Traditional Office

Obviously, most offices will remain traditional.  But Businessweek reports on the growing trend among advant-garde companies to redesign their traditional office spaces to accomodate an increasingly mobile workforce.

What’s should be inspiring to shareholders and managers is the tremendous cost savings combined with productivity enhancements:

Cisco Systems Inc. cut rent and workplace service costs by 37% and saw productivity benefits of $2.4 billion in 2005 from just such an overhaul. Estimates Charles Grantham, co-founder of Work Design Collaborative: “We believe companies could get as much as a 30% to 40% cost savings.”

It is interesting to note that even as workers become more dispersed, working from home, coffeeshops, or on the road, office design is actually becoming more socially oriented:

Paradoxically, as we disperse more, our need to gather in an ideal environment intensifies. So the rethink also includes a growing appreciation for the “social architecture” of offices. Architecture and interior design firms such as Archideas Inc. are creating offices for companies by mapping the informal networks in organizations and then structuring space around concepts such as who employees bounce ideas off of and who they like to hang out with.

This development shows that it is a mistake to believe that trend such as homeshoring will lead to less social interaction.  Rather they will lead to less unproductive and unnecessary social interaction (pointless water cooler chatter) and to more productive engagement so that employees can, lo and behold, focus on what they’re being paid to do, namely create value for shareholders.

June 27, 2006 at 5:40 am 8 comments

Homeshoring as part of corporate consolidation scheme

Citizen Communications is incorporating a work at home initiative as part of its efforts to improve service quality and market competitiveness (read cost control).  This homeshoring effort will be executed in conjunction with a consolidation drive that will greatly reduce the number of call center and combine them into two large call-centers.

It will be interesting to see if other firms which depend on a high quality call-center force will follow this strategy of consolidation and homeshoring.  It makes sense because one traditional argument for having multiple call centers spread out across different time zones was that the company could offer 24/7 service.  However, homeshoring make diversification across time zones a non-issue for call centers.  Instead, it becomes reasonable to consolidate call center operations into a few physical locations to take care of call volume at peak hours.  Other times can be handled by the work at home workforce.

June 26, 2006 at 5:29 am 1 comment

Telework Advocates Respond to Backlash

In this article from Network World, telework advocate respond to the opposition to telework that has grown since a Veteran's Admin. laptop with valuable personal info on it was stolen. In particular I like the point made by Steve O'Keeffe, executive director of Telework Exchange:

"The analyst whose laptop was stolen from his house was not a teleworker, just someone who took work home with him. To link the incident to telecommuting is a mischaracterization, says Steve O'Keeffe, executive director of Telework Exchange. "I don't understand why it has been painted this way," O'Keeffe says. "The chap is not a teleworker. He brought work — sensitive but unclassified information — out of the office. But anyone could do that."

Also, there is at least one politician who not only understands the value of telework, but also understands what motivates managers, money:

To speed things up, lawmakers such as Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) have proposed financial penalties for agencies that resist teleworking. Two years running, Wolf has inserted language in spending bills requiring agencies such as NASA and the Commerce, Justice and State departments show an increase in the number of federal workers telecommuting or forfeit $5 million each.

Unfortunately, the biggest incentive to change is simply the threat that mangers who aren't team players won't be on the team after the next round of layoffs.  Of course, this threat is a non-issue in the federal government since even the most grotesquely incompetent managers linger around for years thanks to federal governments reluctance to demand performance out of them.

June 21, 2006 at 5:30 am 3 comments

Tax Laws Discourage Telecommuting

It is interesting that tax laws in some states effectively double-tax telecommuters:

Under a longstanding New York tax rule, nonresidents who telecommute some or most of the time for their New York employers may be forced to pay New York taxes, not only on the income they earn when they work in New York, but also on the income they earn when they work at home, in a different state. Because telecommuters’ home states may also tax the income earned at home, these employees may be double taxed on that income. 

 This is an expecially bad practice considering that fuel conservation, emergency preparedness, and achieving work/life balance are all in the public interest.  In effect , NY is taxing conservation of fuel, disaster preparedness, and work/family life balance.  For some reason I am actually surprised by this.  I know I should never be surprised at the stupidity of politicians, but in this case I am.

June 20, 2006 at 5:31 am 8 comments

Federal Gov Managers Preventing Telework

According to this article in Computerworld, managers of federal agencies are opposed to telework.  This is unsurprising and frankly who can blame them?  As the article points out, federal agencies must return excess funds to the federal government rather than reaping the rewards of effective cost savings.  Why go through the stress and effort of making a significant change (which home-based work will entail) when you are not effectively rewarded by it.  Unfortunately, this lack of incentives is not only applicable to telework initiative but to any effort at cost savings or productivity enhancement.  This yet another reason why the private sector, not government will lead the way in implementing home-based work solutions.

June 19, 2006 at 5:36 am 4 comments

Federal Gov continues to expand telework

This time it is the Defense Dept. that has successfully expanded its telework force.  One thing to note about this effort is that the telework program simply allows employees to work out of the office only four days every two weeks.  Unfortunately, that means that employees are still in the office half of the time and therefore taking up office space and wasting dollars on rent that could be spent elsewhere (in this its our tax dollars being wasted.

June 16, 2006 at 5:31 am Leave a comment

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