Re: telecommuting --- social costs

Subject: Re: telecommuting --- social costs
From: Kat Nagel/MasterWork <katnagel -at- EZNET -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 1995 16:08:16 -0400

Robert Giovanni (rgcolon -at- mailbox -dot- syr -dot- edu) wrote about the social costs of
> The social cost is greater than we care to think about.
> This has been an era of continuous change, and we have
> not noticed the things we have lost along the way.
> We have changed our working environment to a less
> social environment, which involves less personal
> activities among the co-workers. It is the lillte
> things in life that change things the most.

Karla McMaster responded:
>I guess I don't see this as such a bad thing. I don't have
>anything against my co-workers, but they're not necessarily
>the people I want to have meaningful contact with. I always
>think of telecommuting of giving me the advantage of more
>time for communication around home--with children, spouse,
>or neighbors. This is where I really want community--not at

I have to agree with Karla on this one.

I spent 17 years as a chemist and product engineer before I switched
careers. During that time our workplace mutated from private or
semiprivate offices circling a shared lab area to a set of barnlike rooms
with little chest-high cubicles. We were told that this was done to
'facilitate communication'.

The kind of communication it facilitated was the casual small talk that
used to be confined to the cafeteria, the restrooms, and the lines at the
stockroom. The constant background buzz of other people's chatter was
incredibly distracting, and the amount of useful work accomplished
plummetted. There were no physical barriers to discourage people from
interrupting each other. It was bad enough as a chemist. At least I could
occasionally escape into the lab. But the only way I could concentrate on
writing a test design or a report was to escape to the library or to take
the work home nights and weekends.

Now, as a freelancer, I use email whenever possible to get information,
give information, and schedule appointments when face-to-face meetings will
be helpful. I have found that several SMEs, who have reputations with my
on-site colleagues as abrasive and uncooperative, are easy to deal with
electronically. I'm not irritating them by phoning or dropping in when
they are busy with something else, and they aren't irritating me by
brushing me off or getting surly. Another plus --- engineers who ignore
voicemail and post-it notes on keyboards will answer email messages
relatively promptly --- something imperative about seeing it on a computer
screen?. When I do finally meet these folks face-to-face, we already have
a pretty good electronic working relationship established. Meetings are
pleasant and productive.

As for social relationships with coworkers, I don't think that they have
changed much. On every long-term contract I still find one or two people I
have enough in common with to consider developing a friendship. And I have
more energy for maintaining real friendships than I would if I had to
constantly support the fiction of 'one big happy family'. BTW, we maintain
those friendships through collaborative pro-bono projects for community
groups, through breakfast and lunch get-togethers, and --- yes --- through

<soapbox mode OFF>

@Kat_____ Kat Nagel
MasterWork Consulting Services Rochester, NY
LIFE1 (techwriting/docdesign) katnagel -at- eznet -dot- net
LIFE2 (vocal chamber music) PlaynSong -at- aol -dot- com

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