In the last post, we talked about Recession-Proof: Silver Linings, the article discussed how recessions are almost an incubator for Innovation. Innovation takes a business objective and accomplishes that objective in a new way that the industry hasn’t see or embraced. In that article, we looked back at when Ford combined automobile manufacturing with the assembly line. In less than ten years, Ford owned 50% of worldwide car manufacturing. One point, in the article,
was that to be innovative didn’t require inventing a “new” technology. During this recession, we are seeing an old technology (originally called telecommuting) now called Unified Communication, coming into its own. This technology has been evolving and may finally break past the early adopter stage and into the mainstream.
During the Clinton administration, there was a transportation problem and an ecological problem. Some of the symptoms included; High gas prices, freeway congestion, air pollution, thinning ozone, and something new scientists named global warming.
One idea was to get more cars off the road was having 10% (or more) employees work from home. With fewer cars, there would be less demand for gas, less freeway congestion, and a reduction in the carbon footprint. Working from home was called Telecommuting. Research, in the '90s, showed that besides lowering the carbon-carbon footprint, there were other business benefits.
- Employees working from home were 15 – 20% more productive than their office counterparts.
- Companies could reduce capital costs and overhead expenses associated with maintaining more and more office space for information workers by letting them work remotely.
This research is 30 years old. Looking at the ecology and community, we all get cleaner air. From a business perspective, the business got more productive employees, reduced capital costs, and reduced overhead (maintenance, taxes, etc.), and higher profits from earnings. On the surface, telecommuting seemed like a Win\win\win for the community, management, and employees. Yet there were two main reasons telecommuting didn’t catch on.
- Theory X Management culture. Theory X managers believe that without “one on one” supervision that includes rewards and penalties, employees would not be motivated to work. The argument was that employees would never get any work done without strong oversight.
- Employee culture. The research also found many employees see the workplace as an essential source of social stimulation in their lives. Without the personal one on one contact with other employees, the more social employee was dissatisfied. Social employees tended to use their political power to sabotage telecommuting programs.
What is Unified Communications (UC) anyway?
In the '90s, the technology for telecommuting was still limited. At the time, DARPA (Defense advance Project Agency) spent billions creating networking projects to build high-security government computing networks. All the combined computing power created by DARPA is equal to the computing power of today’s X-Box game system. Telecommuting technologies have advanced at the same rate. What we can do with Unified Communications technologies is 100 times better and 100 times cheaper.
Unified communication (UC) technologies combine communication silos. A communication silo is determined by a “media.” Fifty years ago, telephone communication could only be performed on an analog handset. The analog wire and the handset were the media. Other media include hand-printed letters, books, movies, typewriters, and Television. Each media all required a separate device (from paper to a TV set) to view. Today these media silos can be crossed. A smartphone or a computer can receive voice, text, letters, TV, movies, and face to face communication. Making it just as easy to talk with another employee, in Hawaii, New York, or in the next cubicle. (Hmmm… cubicles in a modern office? I am dating myself.)
At the time of this writing, there is a worldwide pandemic. This pandemic has already sent the economy into a tailspin. Companies that are least affected by the epidemic are using UC technologies to allow employees to work from home or anywhere in the world. The work continues while the corporate offices are empty. Telecommuting has been around for almost 30 years. Unfortunately, usage has never reached a 15% adoption level. Right now, stock prices are increasing for remote meeting tools. Cisco, for example, has doubled the sales for its online collaboration tool offerings. We may soon be seeing a tipping point with these types of technologies.
Let’s say that the modern information worker can now work from home at less cost than in an office? What happens when companies see improvements in their bottom line? Will business begin questioning the need for these large office spaces for information workers? Offices in cities that require freeways filled with commuters to get to those office buildings. What happens if the carbon footprint decreases as the studies in the ’90s suggested? Will companies that try to go back to the old way of doing business before the recession still be able to compete? Will we see a change in culture similar to the changes made in business culture from the assembly line in Ford’s day?
Like automobiles manufacturing and assembly lines, you don’t need to be the inventor. All you need to do is be the first to combine a stable technology in a new way. The rest of the industry will have to follow just to compete. I wonder what our grandchildren 50 years from now will be thinking about us? I’m sure you can’t imagine why anyone would try to build a car without an assembly line today. Our grandchildren might wonder why people used to sit in small offices, driving home in rush hour traffic while risking climate change? In both cases, doing things the old way just doesn't scale today.
This article has discussed Unified Communication technology. Cultures are hard (and expensive) to change. The problem isn’t with the technology. The root problem is the people who sabotage moving forward. We can see it today as the government tries to prop up business models, cultures, and communities that refuse to look past “… the way we’ve always done things.”
Check out these other articles for more technologies that will probably explode during this recession. In the process, take our economy to the next economic expansion.
Recession-Proof: Artificial Intelligence