Oil prices, “telecommuting” and working near home

by Paul Carder on January 19, 2016

by @paulcarder

Whilst reading for my next PhD task, an old reference just popped up…the origin of the term “telecommuting” (Nilles, 1975). Full references in my footnote.

Jack M. Nilles was the Director of Interdisciplinary Program Development (I like that already… 40 years later, still very much in need of these guys!), Office of Academic Administration and Research at USC, Los Angeles.

In his 1975 paper, he says: “Our research at the University of Southern California (USC) included an investigation of the technologies required for “telecommuting.” A telecommuting network has computational and telecommunications components which enable employees of large organizations to work in offices close to (but generally not in) their homes, rather than commute long distances to a central office.”

This is often referred to as the first mention of “telecommuting”. But perhaps more interestingly, note the part which most people who reference this four decades later omit:

“…offices close to (but generally not in) their homes…”

Sometime later, that part was lost, and people started to put telecommuting together with working at home. Why? – well largely because, in effect, we all “telecommute” today, all the time. In 1975, if you needed to work with someone, then you (or they) had to travel to get together. Or use the telephone.

Reading the footnotes to Jack Nilles’ paper, at the time it was mostly about the oil price, following as it did shortly after the 1973-4 oil crisis (OPEC embargo)…and way before most people had heard of “sustainability”. Nilles base in Los Angeles is still slave to the car today, but in those days there really was no choice other than commuting – to drive to your office, work all day, and drive home.

In 2016, who would have thought we would see the oil price tumbling? But we all have a far more pressing reason to find a cure for commuting: sustainability, of course. And we really do have the choice – in fact many options – to work in different places, using a whole variety of technologies. How long does it take for this message to permeate the seemingly impervious corporate cultures where people must be ‘seen’ to be assumed to be working?

Just one last nugget… nearly missed in the footnotes, Nilles writes: “Some major national corporations already have video conferencing networks connecting regional offices”. …in 1975! And beneath, he lists the first reference to the “video telephone” (Dickson & Bowers, 1973). Really? Wow!

So why can I still walk around most offices and not find corporate video conferencing or video phones? …just those old plastic desk phones. Even though, almost everyone has video conferencing in their pocket on their iThingy. Possibly not connected to the corporate network though…ho hum.

I guess these things just take time, right? …or is it something else?



Nilles, J. M. (1975). Telecommunications and organizational decentralization. Communications, IEEE Transactions on, 23(10), 1142-1147.

Dickson, E. M., & Bowers, R. (1973). The video telephone, a new era in telecommunications: a preliminary technology assessment. Program on Science, Technology and Society, Cornell University.


Productivity is important at a macro-economic level. How much a country produces, measured by GDP, is still important.

Productivity at an organization level is also important, when measuring ‘output against inputs’, usually turnover and profitability.

But, unless an organization is a simple ‘producer’ (e.g., manufacturer of items for sale), then productivity is yesterday’s issue. This is now one of the key challenges for any non-manufacturing organization – and even many parts of the manufacturer, not directly working on the production process.

A government organization delivers output, not measurable in ‘units’. An advertising agency originates ideas, sometimes a spark of genius, or sometimes the result of a process of team brainstorming and analysis. The productivity of the work process is hard to measure – maybe impossible.

Traditional ‘productivity’ is about “stuff” made/time taken. So, time is the measure. But, non-manufacturing organizations do not work that way. How long the Creative Director takes to produce a new TV advert may become a problem if the project is running late. But, equally, the whole concept could come quickly as a flash of inspiration, as ideas bounce around a bright team of thinkers. Where does productivity come into that process?

Society (and therefore corporations delivering products to society; consumers) needs creativity. And, that creativity needs inspiration. It needs many other things also, as the process of innovation is not just about ideas. It needs knowledge, and people who are engaged in what they are doing – not just going through the motions. For more about the innovation process, read John Kao, who we heard speak at the CoreNet Global Summit San Diego in 2012 – certainly a process, but can it be measured by ‘productivity’?

Post-productive Places must inspire people to be creative. Places must also make people feel valued, and part of the organization, to be fully engaged in their work. Increasingly ‘places’ are also one element of the process to attract good people to work for an organization (or at the least, not to dissuade them from enquiring!). The result should be engaged people, working together in “places” designed (and managed) to inspire.

We need ways to measure the success of such places – but, it is not “productivity” as such – it is more about performance. Human performance, leading to team performance, leading to organizational performance.

Paul Carder (; Twitter @occupiers


One month ago I published this blog post:

I was super-enthusiastic! A good evening debate at the RICS, where education and development of Facilities Management (FM) was the focus, and had triggered a sudden rush of activity. The blog describes how it all started, and who was involved.

I am still enthusiastic about the concept of developing Harvard-style case studies for our industry – we have to be! The industry needs case studies, desperately….we have very little substantive material to demonstrate how FM contributes to business performance. You can read about the progress of Project SOCS (Service Operations: Case Studies) here:

However, the project is starting to get into the usual ‘inertia treacle’ between the parties in an industry that sadly seems to know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing (a point made in our Raising The Bar report for RICS in November 2012). For so long now, FM companies have grown by going to customers with a “we can save you 10%” proposition….but 15 years ago, that worked. Now, customers have got used to asking FM to cut costs – they expect it.

Go on, just one more cut…it won’t kill the industry (will it?)

Yes, it will. Eventually. You cannot build a market sector that has no marketing other than cost-savings.

What is the FM industry? Perhaps it is currently a Project, not an industry sector. Perhaps it has been a 25-30 year project to rationalize property-related service provision in organisations, and make them lean and efficient. OK, it may have achieved that. So what next?

Does the industry want to sell value-based services to customers at a price that allows them to invest in good people, and grow profitability? It seems not. Or, in fact, it seems the industry just does not know how to do that.

Cinderella had better PR than Facilities Management does!

She must have done. Someone told the ‘customer’ what size her feet were….the rest is history (OK, myth). If that was Facilities Management, the customer would have been told, “Why not forget the glass slipper…we can supply you with these boots, at lower cost”. Not the point.

FM needs to start building a rich picture of all the many ways that FM contributes to business performance. It needs to build these ‘stories’ into solid case studies, that can be used by Business Schools to teach future executives about the business value of FM.

We are ready to source and write 20 case studies, into a 100 page book, by year end….help us to do that?

Someone always needs to stick their head above the parapet, and allow people to take ‘pot shots’. I have; and they will. But, we have a very strong team now confirmed:

Project Management: me + David Emanuel (MD,, Dr. Rob Harris (Ramidus Consulting) and my business partner, Dr Jim Ware (a former Harvard Business School professor and case study expert). More at this link:

UK Steering Group (formally confirmed so far):

  • Kath Fontana             Managing Director, BAM FM
  • Liz Kentish                  BIFM, Deputy Chair
  • Peter McLennan       Course Director, MSc FEM, University College London (UCL)
  • Deborah Rowland    Head of FM Policy & Strategy, Government Property Unit (Cabinet Office)
  • Stephen Shallcroft   Director, Corporate Real Estate, ARCADIS NV (inc. EC Harris LLP)
  • Gareth Tancred         BIFM, Chief Executive

And a clear target ‘check list’ for case studies:

What do we need from you? as soon as possible…..

What we really need now is funding. We can really help to change the FM industry, and start to move towards value-based business services, and away from simple cost-savings.

Service providers need to invest in this project, in our opinion. When we are successful in shifting the focus towards value, not cost-savings, then service providers will become more profitable. We all need the many service providers in our industry to be profitable, over the long-term, to make it possible to invest in people and performance.

Please invest today, and have your brand associated with this leading project; please contact David Emanuel:

And please join, and follow the progress of the SOCS project, on our LinkedIn Group:


We always write about CoreNet Global Summits – in fact, you’ll see more from #CNGorlando from Jim Ware this week, as he is just on his way home to the ‘other’ sunshine state of California. Why? Well, I guess we are very familiar with CoreNet Summits – you may be too? I have been to a dozen or more, around the world, and I always learn something; but we also like the people, and the great network. CoreNet have also been kind enough to invite us to all their Summits also, which clearly helps… 🙂

What about the ‘competition’ though? WORKTECH by Unwired Ltd, is certainly in that ‘box’. And it is now well established around the world, much like CoreNet Summits. Should you go to one, or the other, or both? Our role is not to advise on that, but to tell you what we have seen, heard, and what we might expect from future events.

Jim Ware was at WORKTECH’11 West Coast, and this was his report. It was the first event hosted by Unwired in Silicon Valley. Jim knows the region well, as a resident of Berkeley, CA, and said this:

“….it was a good day, time and money well spent. Great lineup of speakers, intriguing stories, and excellent opportunities for networking. I don’t know the numbers, but I’d guess there were about 150 people in attendance, from all over the U.S. and some further afield” (there is far more on the link above)

WORKTECH’12 is in San Francisco this year, on 15th October. It is SOLD OUT, so if you were hoping to attend, sorry! Watch for next year, and book early! Our Jim Ware will be attending, so subscribe to this blog to make sure that you do not miss his overview.

There IS still time to book here for your place at WORKTECH’12 London, on 14/15 November, at the British Library. Or simply contact Caroline Bell for more information by emailing or calling
+44 20 8977 8920

What can you expect at WORKTECH12 London?

Over two days, WORKTECH offers a unique blend of ideas, workplace innovations, and visions of the future. It also offers an “innovations exhibition” to share ideas, masterclasses and networking drinks. See the speakers list here.
• Keynote speaker, Alan Moore, a charismatic visionary with a firm grasp of the significant and disruptive trends currently reshaping our world, will outline the true possibilities of a networked society and talk about his latest book, No Straight Lines: making sense of our non-linear world.
• Join Microsoft and it’s NEW WORLD OF WORK with case studies from Microsoft’s groundbreaking new offices in Lisbon, Zurich and Helsinki.
• Examine the Future of Work with 6 Heads of Real Estate from BBC, Unilever, Deloitte, Cisco, Zurich Financial Services and Sodexo.
• Explore tools and connections for innovation and productivity
• Get the latest on BYOD from Cisco and hear how a leading law firm unlocked their IT assets and freed up investment through the adoption of BYOD

So there it is…. if you have an interest in the future of work for your organization and want to learn from your peers who have recently embraced change, WORKTECH is where you need to be!
Delegates already booked to attend include ITV, Thomson Reuters, Aon, Barclays, British Council, GlaxoSmithKline, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, BBC, Unilever, KPMG, Network Rail, Kraft Foods, Ericson, Deloitte and many more.

regards, Paul Carder, Director @Occupiers Journal Limited;

Caroline Bell | Conference Director | UNWIRED Ventures Ltd | Mobile: +44 7983 581 682 | Office: +44 (0) 208 977 8920 | Email : |
|Address: 7 St Johns Mews, St Johns Rd, Hampton Wick, Surrey, UK, KT1 4AN |
|work | workplace | technology | innovation |
| UNWIRED and are part of UnGroup |


Day Two of the Corenet Global Summit

by jimware on May 1, 2012

I am sitting in the front row of the General Session – speaker having trouble with her teleprompter – now she is on a roll, describing CRE2020, the major research initiative. Panel discussion being led by Mark Gorman.

Also being streamed live via Corenet Summit Connect. I will update as the program unfolds.

Mark: This is a Big Picture session – many big ideas

Update: 8 work streams

(missed the first few – will correct later)

  1. Partnering with Key Support Functions
  2. Portfolo Optimization
  3. Service Delivery
  4. Sustainabililty
  5. Workplace

Panelists: Sarah Abrams; Pay Wu; Sanjiv Awasthi; Tony Wong

Update: Discussion: where will CRE report in 2020? Will it exist?

[Read more…]


John Kao at Corenet Summit

by jimware on April 30, 2012

Listening to John Kao right now kicking off Corenet Summit with insights about innovation. Will add notes as it goes along.

Masterful blending of his knowledge of business organizations and music. Jass is a powerful blending of structure and freedom (within that structure). Creative tension between rules and creativity/adjusting. But no fixed rules about when to go beyond the rules.

Innovation means trying new things – learning means risking failure – but it’s the only way to move forward.

The 5 D’s of innovation:

  1. Definition
  2. Disruption
  3. Doing It
  4. Dissemination – whole world is becoming a jazz club; little companies can be “big” in the innovation game; size no longer matters
  5. Digital – world is becoming like a Brain. See 1930’s book by H.G. Wells “The World Brain” – foretold Google, whole concept of Internet, etc. Collective intelligence is becoming a reality