I wrote this about a month ago, when the dreaded Covid-19 coronavirus closed restaurants for all except carryout and delivery service, businesses and schools closed, grocery stores were running out of things like meat and produce, and families found themselves barricaded in their houses, attempting to avoid human contact, for fear of becoming fatally ill. Some are treating the virus like it’s no big deal, others are treating it like the Zombie Apocalypse… Seriously, though, I hope this finds all of you in good health and that, by some miracle, things are either back to normal or rapidly approaching that point.
Many businesses were (and are) able to carry on as usual, despite the fact that no one was physically in the office to handle telephone calls and carry on with the daily routine. If you have a phone, a computer, and access to the Internet, it doesn’t matter whether you’re at the office, at home, or at the beach, you can carry on as though you’re sitting in a cubicle farm next to your co-workers. This miracle is called working remotely.
Rather than getting up, showering and dressing in a manner appropriate for the office, catching the bus or train (or several buses and several trains) or sitting for an hour in rush hour traffic to get to the office, you can get up a little later, dress how you wish, sit down in front of your computer at an appointed time and log into a virtual private network (or VPN) that protects the privacy and security of your communications with other people in your organization and your organization’s data. You now have access to everything you need: company email, data on other servers, conferencing services, company voice mail, Sharepoint and wiki services… pretty much all the same stuff you have access to when you’re in the office. Subject to company policy and your immediate supervisor, you can work flexible hours so you can do things like grocery shopping and shuttling the kids between soccer practice, dance lessons, and tae kwon do, etc.
Obviously, this doesn’t work for everyone. There are a lot of jobs that can’t be done remotely, among them the job of keeping all those servers going. There’s a lot of reluctance to allow people to work remotely, particularly in agile development where each day begins with a "scrum" with all the members of the team physically in a room together. While technology jobs are the most logical choices for a remote work environment, many managers want everyone there. I went onsite to a company where almost everyone who worked in data processing was named John. Apparently, the boss wanted to be able to yell "John! Get your ass in here!" and have them all show up. (No kidding, he tried to recruit me…)
You know where I’d like to see remote work? In government, specifically in the legislature. Too many politicians leave their districts for the capital (whether the state capital or Washington, DC, or whatever the equivalents are where you live) and forget the people they’re meant to represent until election day. If they were forced to work from their home districts, where their constituents could see them at the store, the movies, at their kids’ soccer games etc., effective representation of their consitituents would become not simply their job but an act of self-preservation…