And now, a ban on telecommuting?

Raymond Keating
Raymond Keating

Rather than governing with his business experience in mind, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg uses government to impose an intrusive regulatory agenda.

There’s his ban on selling beverages with sugar in containers larger than 16 ounces in New York City restaurants, movie theaters and food carts. This follows a 2006 ban on trans fat in cooking oils used in food establishments, a 2002 smoking ban in bars and restaurants and his efforts targeted at salt reduction.

For good measure, there was his crusade is to get rid of polystyrene containers. (By the way, Bloomberg also has banned food donations to city homeless shelters since the city can’t assess their fat, fiber and salt content. Now, that’s a crusade.)

But now Bloomberg has reached beyond his food and smoking-related targets. As recently reported, he has declared his opposition to telecommuting. Bloomberg was quoted: “I’ve always said telecommuting is one of the dumber ideas I’ve ever heard … Yes, there are some things you can do at home. But having a chat line is not the same thing as standing at the water cooler. And standing at the water cooler is where you get a lot of ideas and information and it’s a euphemism for a lot of interpersonal dialogue.”

His comments apparently came in response to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who reportedly has given the company’s telecommuting employees until June to set up shop in the office or find work elsewhere. Mayer sees telecommuters as less productive.

Bloomberg is off base. And I say that as a telecommuter since 1991.

Any wise entrepreneur or manager sees the potential benefits of tapping into talent that seeks to work and works well in a home office or mobile setting. Of course, not every employee fits what’s needed in a telecommuter. That person has to be a self-starter; be able to meet deadlines and goals; and, in general, be a responsible individual. From the telecommuter’s perspective, you have to some self-assessment, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, to figure out if you can thrive in such a setting.

Most important, though, is that you like your work. As long as you enjoy the work, then telecommuting certainly won’t be a problem from a productivity standpoint. As I have found, you wind up being far more productive as a telecommuter.

The telecommuting option certainly has been a boon for small businesses — both in terms of being able to more easily start up a business (just consider the savings in terms of office costs) and tapping into a wider array of potential employees or contractors across the nation and around the globe.

As for the communication factors mentioned by Bloomberg, he has a point — but an increasingly limited one. Again, it depends on the job. Some simply require face-to-face interaction. But Bloomberg seems unaware of the full effects enhanced communication technologies have had and are having globally. Situations where face-to-face meetings are deemed absolutely necessary are becoming less and less the case as time passes and technology advances.

Perhaps the best example rapidly emerging right now is how communications technology has upended the education marketplace. As tools for online teaching advance, the once-considered absolute need to sit in the same classroom as a professor and other students continues to diminish, with vast, new opportunities opening for educators and those seeking to learn. That’s increasingly the case with college and career training and spreading for secondary and elementary education as well.

As for Bloomberg, by the way, noted the following: “As a billionaire with multiple homes outside New York City, he has defended his right to work remotely without disclosing his whereabouts. He says he can work and stay in touch through his various devices.”

After he was criticized for not being in town when a major blizzard paralyzed the city on Christmas weekend in 2010, Bloomberg said: “To the best of my recollection, in nine years there hasn’t been a time when you couldn’t communicate, get me on the phone, whether I’m traveling or uptown or downtown.”

Apparently in Bloomberg’s view, telecommuting works for himself, but no one else. He certainly wouldn’t be the first politician to think he was above others and the rules apply to everyone but himself.

There’s no word as yet, though, if Mayor Bloomberg will propose a telecommuting ban in New York City. Hey, I joke …

I think.