--> Gill Blog: July 2005

Gill Blog

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

IFMA & Workplace Continuity, Telework and Change

We just received some fantastic news. Our paper, Workplace Continuity, Telework and Change, was published in the July/August issue of Facility Management Journal by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA).

Subscription to the print publication or registration to the site is required to read the full article, but here's the introduction:
Fundamental changes in the workplace are happening today and are driven by a number of factors such as improvements in communication technology, the need to address inefficient management structures, and the desire to better manage risk. This is all taking place at a time where cost efficiency and competitiveness are paramount.

One of the more powerful factors impacting our early 21st century culture of work is the continuing explosive development of technology and the consequent revision of workplace attitudes and operations. The advance of technology has spawned a new generation of entrepreneurs who don’t need suits, ties, and standard office space to compete successfully in business. Their success has been a key catalyst in changing fundamental work patterns in many organizations. Not only did they eliminate the nine-to-five, five-day week in favor of an entirely new system of time management, they used the tools of new technology to change the way work was done. This has become an indelible blueprint for success across a wide spectrum of industries.

For example, advances in remote technology – i.e. the tools and networks connecting people and work groups across wide areas – have dramatically contributed to this success. Email, for instance, has proven to be the singularly most important business tool since the single-line telephone and, along with other advances in remote technologies, has allowed organizations to better manage cost, create redundancy and make organizations more competitive.

Speaking of competition, technological advance also has spawned the globalization of services, communication, and labor pools. This has led to increased global competition and to business focus on more efficient management. One of the more visible results of this change in focus has been the downsizing in organizational hierarchies. This has made organizations flatter, improved the number of communication channels to managers, and marginalized the middle management role of informational gatekeeper between subordinates and top management.

An additional change agent is the impact of 9/11 which has led to increased emphasis on risk management and business continuity planning. Organizations have begun to consider new strategies to better manage risk and related workplace issues. As a result, business continuity planning – an area that previously resided exclusively in the IT department and/or in a file cabinet gathering dust – has gained significant organization-wide importance within corporations.

In the midst of these changing dynamics is the move toward telework. Telework is both a cause of the changing dynamics as well as a result. As a cause, telework plays a key role in each of the change factors mentioned above. Telework facilitates the increased and improved utilization of technology, enables globalized service provision, and enhances the feasibility of adequate risk management. On the other hand, improved technology, globalization pressures, and risk management needs have all resulted in an increased focus on telework. Telework has begun to play an increasingly critical role in the changing dynamics of today’s workplace.

The paper, co-authored with me by Dr. Wendell Joice, head of the United States' General Services Administration (GSA) telework team came about as a result of an eighteen month collaboration of Gill with the GSA. In fact, the initial idea came about after I was approached by Stan Kaczmarczyk, Deputy Associate Administrator for Real Property, US General Services Administration who had attended a presentation by me at the 2004 RPIC Conference in Ottawa in February. Stan thought we should share ideas that would lead to a greater connection between real estate strategy, risk management, business continuity, technology and teleworking. What we came up with was Workplace Continuity.

We decided to bring into our discussions the expertise of Dr. Joice, who is regarded as one of the world's leading experts on telework. Not only has he spearheaded many of the teleworking initiatives within GSA, but he also became directly involved in one of the major issues being discussed in Congress:
When Wendell Joice became head of the General Services Administration’s government-wide telework team, he didn’t realize how much the Office of Personnel Management would count on him to douse the fire brewing on Capitol Hill over telecommuting.

The House last week passed the Commerce, Justice and State fiscal 2005 appropriations bill with a provision to withhold $5 million from every agency in the bill that failed to meet telework goals. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) sponsored the provision.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he would consider extending the provision to all appropriations bills to pressure agencies to fulfill their telework mandate.

Together, we completed the first draft of our paper last October, and have been refining our thinking ever since. We both believe that this is only the first step in moving this concept ahead. Although movement on this front can be characterized at times as glacial, there are a number of points we feel will gain traction immediately.

Of course, we'll be sure to keep you posted about our progress here on the Gill Blog and on our corporate website.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Telework's Benefits Increasingly Linked to Business Continuity

Given that we are a day or so removed from the after effects of Hurricane Emily, there is a temptation to go discuss the way in which local officials in Mexico handled the evacuation of stranded tourists, but why not let you read it on your own.

Actually, I want to talk again about telework. For the longest time, whenever one wanted to find out the latest about how organizations are adopting telework within their workplace, they would typically read a piece couched in a kind of gee-whiz narrative, that would make readers think about how novel the idea of conducting remote work might be. Take this article I came across for instance which discusses how Sun Microsystems is on the leading edge of telework, and how the concept is evolving from telecommuting to telework:
Sun is on the leading edge when it comes to "telework" -- a coinage that nowadays replaces the term "telecommuting" because it encompasses not just working from home but working from anywhere: a client's office, a coffee shop, an airport lounge, a commuter train. With cell phones, broadband at home, WiFi, virtual private networks and instant messaging becoming ubiquitous, telework has become easier than ever.

Although the article points to the benefits of telework (including substantially lower real estate costs), it also talks about the barriers that need to be overcome before telework makes its mark. The primary ones being cultural:
The big barriers are social rather than technological. Managers worry that unsupervised employees might goof off. Workers worry that losing face time might hurt their chances for advancement.

It is interesting to see, however, that the discussion is increasingly being tied to the concept of business continuity and risk mitigation. I came across this notice posted on The Federal Times website, that makes it very clear that teleworking is a critical component in managing risk:
Agencies responsible for managing critical functions that must be sustained through natural or man-made disasters must fulfill the government’s continuity of operations directives. That covers virtually every agency in the government...In case of disaster, an agency’s network and applications should be able to redirect government communications and information to locations outside the affected locations. For example, even a snowed-in work force should be able to remain productive from employees’ homes...the technology necessary to achieve work-force resilience through disruptions, such as the snowstorm, also can enable teleworking during normal operations. Secure virtual private networks link workers’ homes to the agency data centers, keeping employees connected to voice mail, e-mail, video communications and business applications.

Slowly but surely we are seeing the intersection of the many disparate themes we have been discussing on this forum.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

New York City blackout of 1977

Have you noticed how often you are reminded that we are living in a new normal? As a result, we must adjust our lifestyles to events such as terrorism, natural calamities and disease. Quick check -- this stuff has actually been going on for a long time, and we use this day in particular as a reminder because today marks the 28th anniversary of the New York City blackout of 1977. It really couldn't have happened at a worse time, because morale in the city was very low:
The blackout came at a low point in the city's history, with New York facing a severe financial crisis, and commentators contrasted the event with the good-natured Where were you when the lights went out? atmosphere of 1965. Some pointed to the financial crisis as a root cause of the disorder, others noted the hot July weather. To add to the gloomy mood, the summer of 1977 was also the time of the Son of Sam serial killings.

Interestingly, there are probably a number of 27 year-old emergency and risk professionals from New York who were conceived in the midst of the chaos:
The blackout also proved to create a small baby boom; there was a huge increase in New York's birthrate nine months after the blackout.

On August 14, 2003, New York City and most of the northeast North American continent experienced the largest "blackout" in history, which left us blogging in the darkness, and prompted this historical observation in the international press:
Blackouts have a particular place in the history of New York City. They are seen as defining moments, and for those old enough to remember, Thursday's power cut will bring back memories of the "good blackout" of 1965 which became an emblem of the civic responsibility and resilience.

Twelve years later, in 1977, there was what the New York Times also describes as the "bad blackout", which, until 11 September, was literally and metaphorically, one of the city's darkest hours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In the Aftermath of the London Bombing

Kudos to the people of London for keeping their trademark stiff upper lip intact despite the severity of last week's terrorist bombing. It was quite remarkable, but even on the evening of the incident, the BBC broadcast a report from a pub in London where some weary commuters, although a little invonvenienced by the walk that lay ahead, still thought nothing about nipping into a nearby pub for a quick pint and pie before making the long trek home. They showed the world that it is possible to live and move forward, even if that world is now different.

Make no mistake about it, the Brits are a hearty bunch and their inner sense of resilience was not lost on the equity markets. Consider the FTSE, which began last Thursday's session by dropping like a rock, but ended the day close to where it began. In fact, it has made gains each day since. The fact the UK has lived with terrorism for years undoubtedly contributes to their ability to dust themselves off and get on with things. Unfortunately, while the UK opts to take the high road and not let terrorism interfere with progress, other less seasoned countries instead choose to use this as an opportunity to proclaim the sky is falling.

Take Canada for instance. Only today, the Canadian media in its continuing effort to put a Canadian spin on this story quoted Anne McLellan, the federal public safety minister as saying:
"I do not believe that Canadians are as psychologically prepared for a terrorist attack as I think probably we all should be...One never wants to unnecessarily scare or panic any individual. However, I think we need to start talking about the fact that we all need to be prepared for all possibilities."

The message seemed clear enough: don't get too comfortable, but terrorism could happen in Canada too. Wait a minute, weren't these exactly the same soundbites we heard after 9-11, the 2003 blackout and SARS? The fact that the rhetoric hasn't changed even iota suggests to me at least that places like Canada really need to move beyond the bogeyman phase of risk management and adopt attitudes and policies that are more closely aligned with their cousins across the Atlantic.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

15th World Conference on Disaster Management

Thinking about a useful forum to pick up insight and exchange ideas with some of the best risk professionals in the world? Look no further than the 15th World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM), an event put on by the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness (CCEP) that will kick off this Sunday (July 10) and continue until Wednesday the 15th.

Having attended this and other similar conferences, I can say without a doubt that this is among the best. The theme for this year's event is "THE CHANGING FACE OF DISASTER MANAGEMENT - Defining The New Normal" and conference organizers are posing a challenge:
With the conference theme of "The Changing Face of Disaster Management - Defining The New Normal", we are asking our presenters to challenge the delegates with some controversial ideas and out of the box thinking. We keep hearing the term, "the new normal", but what exactly does is mean?

If you haven't yet registered, there's still time to get on board. We look forward to seeing you there.