There actually is a magic bullet solution to a lot of America’s big problems and its something we can all do in our bathrobes and slippers. It’s telecommuting, and it can make America, and the world, richer, happier, and greener all at the same time.
And it can make our society more family friendly too, which is why we are pleased to note Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cover essay in the most recent edition of the The Atlantic. From 2009 to 2011 Slaughter was the director of policy planning at the State Department. She was the first woman to occupy this prestigious position, and her essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” is a cri de coeur on behalf of similar high-achieving professional women who find it difficult and even impossible to balance the demands of a big job and raising a family.
Anne-Marie is of course onto something, and at Via Meadia we are happy to see that she understands that telecommuting can be more than a convenience. It’s part of the kind of revolution in American life that can give all of us lives more like the ones we want.
Yet our work culture still remains more office-centered than it needs to be, especially in light of technological advances.
One way to change that is by changing the “default rules” that govern office work—the baseline expectations about when, where, and how work will be done…
One real-world example comes from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a place most people are more likely to associate with distinguished gentlemen in pinstripes than with progressive thinking about work-family balance. Like so many other places, however, the FCO worries about losing talented members of two-career couples around the world, particularly women. So it recently changed its basic policy from a default rule that jobs have to be done on-site to one that assumes that some jobs might be done remotely, and invites workers to make the case for remote work.
Slaughter cites the case of Karen Owen, a career foreign-service officer in the FCO:
Before her current maternity leave, she was working a London job from Dublin to be with her partner, using teleconferencing technology and timing her trips to London to coincide “with key meetings where I needed to be in the room (or chatting at the pre-meeting coffee) to have an impact, or to do intensive ‘network maintenance.’” In fact, she writes, “I have found the distance and quiet to be a real advantage in a strategic role, providing I have put in the investment up front to develop very strong personal relationships with the game changers.”
Nor does Slaughter limit herself to a discussion about women. Men, too, can benefit from telecommuting, whether they have a family or not. Of course, Slaughter admits that telecommuting doesn’t work for every job, but it will work for more jobs than we use it for now.
Via Meadia salutes Anne-Marie for her creative suggestions and hopes her ideas gain traction in offices and in the minds of policy wonks everywhere.
There isn’t, unfortunately, a single big lobby pushing this important idea. For one thing, the highway lobby and the mass transit lobbies loathe the thought of reducing peak traffic and congestion on the countries transportation network. No contractors get rich off people sitting at home drinking coffee.
But if you are tired of polarization in our politics and want something that everyone from social conservatives to feminists to libertarians to greens can get behind, take a look at this issue. As Anne-Marie notes, not everybody in the US can telecommute. But many of us can, at least for a few days a week, and using high tech to make our lives better is what progress is all about.