Monthly Archive: June 2021

Working from Home – The New Normal

To paraphrase a famous UK singer, I want to tell you a story.

While I was working for Sabre and then EDS, the corporation adopted an approach to remote working by employees where, if you lived 40 or more miles from your defined work location, and you could obtain leader approval, you were allowed to work from home for 4 days a week, only having to be in the office for meetings one day a week.

This was not a full Work From Home employment agreement. However, a small number of employees did have Work From Home agreements, and in that scenario, the corporation also provided and paid for home computing infrastructure, including internet connectivity, monitors and printers. In practice, a number of employees who lived less than 40 miles from the office location also began to mostly work from home, on a “nod and wink” basis with their leaders. After a while, at least 5 people in my group were working from home, but only 2 people in the group really qualified under the 40 mile rule.

There was a period, in the 2006-2007 time period, where, for reasons that were none too clear, the new EDS leadership decided to enforce the 40 mile rule strictly. As a result, all but 2 of the group members who had been working from home were told they had to be working from their office locations 5 days a week once more. This was not a popular edict. At least 1 person in the group, one of the business analysts, left the company for another job.

After I ceased to support a local client (American Airlines) in 2007, I moved to the America Testing organization, and went on the road for a while. I was re-classified as a Remote worker, meaning that when I was not on the road, I worked from home. Most of the time I was on the road, so working from home was a pleasant, albeit temporary, respite. (contrary to what many people believed, my life as a consultant did not comprise an endless series of stays in luxury hotels, surrounded by Captains Of Industry and voluptuous pouting women. It was a whole lot less glamorous than that).

In practical terms, I have been a Work From Home person since 2008, except when consulting assignments required me to be on the road at client locations.

By the early 2010s, a significant percentage of EDS employees were working from home full-time. Part of the reason was that EDS had closed a number of city offices because there were too few people in the city to justify the retention of a physical office. They simply gave their employees in those cities money to purchase home computing infrastructure, and those employees moved to working from home.

During the transition from EDS to HPE, we suddenly were told that we had to be working from an EDS location. As a result, I started going to the Plano HQ for 2-3 days a week when I was not on the road (which was not often). The reason for this, it was explained to me, was that the selling price of EDS when sold to HP depended to some extent on real estate occupancy, so the order had some down to pamper presentation and maximize the sale price of EDS.

After the transition to HPE, there was another relaxation of the work at home rules.

Then one day, there was a sudden change in the HPE era, with Meg Whitman now the CEO. Suddenly, an edict went out that people needed to be working from an HPE office location. Consultants such as me were exempted, but many employees were told that they had 2 options:  work from an HPE office, or be laid off.

For employees who had moved to home working because there was no longer an HPE office in their city, the choice was stark; move house or leave the company. Unsurprisingly, many employees chose to leave rather than uproot themselves and their families. Or they refused to move, and were WFR’d. The choice tended to depend on which action was the most financially compelling.

Employees living in cities with an HPE office reverted to working at that office, although some of them rapidly learned that in order to be in good standing with leadership, all they had to do was “clock in” by entering the building 4 times a week. So I soon heard of legacy EDS employees who would go to the former EDS Plano HQ, clock into the building, say hello to a few people, and then go home and work at home for the remainder of the day.

Then the rumor spread that the building measurement processes were counting not only whether you were in the building, but for how long. So, for a while, I would go to Plano 2-3 days a week and work there every day, when I was not on the road. I was on the road about 50% of the time. This was not a good use of time, since it is a 1.2 hour drive from my home to the Plano office. I used the time to catch up on conversations with colleagues to take the pulse of the Testing delivery organization. But it was up to 2.5 hours that could have been spent on better use of my time on the planet.

When the legacy HPE business was merged with CSC and we became DXC, the rules on remote working were slowly relaxed again. What I realized was that every time there was a takeover or merger, leadership would insist on employees being in an office, to keep real estate occupancy rates high and help to justify that the buildings or building leases were assets, not liabilities. I was officially assigned to a new DXC office in Dallas, but I have never been there.

More recently, of course, Covid changed everything for a lot of people.  Right now, I work from home, and I expect to work from home for the rest of calendar 2021. My wife is in the same situation, having begun to work from home in April of 2020, once it became clear that Covid was taking root in Texas. Her employer has already postponed a return to office work twice. Currently they have no timetable.

There has been a lot of discussion recently in the media about how employers will try to treat employees in the future if and when the Covid-19 pandemic recedes. There is speculation that many employers will try to force employees back to office locations. This makes no economic sense for either the employer or the employee:

  • The employer has to provide office space and amenities for the employee
  • The employee has to give up time, and money to travel to and from the office location

There may be other cost considerations for parents such as child care (I can tell from what I hear on conference calls that a lot of parents of young children are using working at home as the chance to perform their own small child care).

So, if you are an employer, and you suddenly demand that your employees take a pay cut, and give up possibly 2 hours of their day to commute? Somehow I don’t think that will ever lead to a positive aggregate result.

My prediction is that the climate for employees who either want to force home-workers back to an office, or recruit people on the basis that they will mostly or entirely work from an office, is not going to be favorable. This survey tells you a lot about employee attitudes at the present time.  An employer who gives an employee a $30k raise to work from an office (when they are incurring the cost of the office space) is, bluntly, bonkers. 

This transition period will take time. Some corporations are locked into building leases that they may not be able to get out of in the short term. But the New Normal for many employees that do not have to interact with other employees face to face, or interact with the public, is not going to be the same as the Normal that existed prior to 2020.

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Dear Texas Part 1 – the S word

Dear Texas,

To use the old British joke, I see that some of the peasants are revolting…a proposal for the option of secession from the Union to be put into a referendum was just shelved in Austin. 

This is merely the latest in a series of periodic outbreaks of enthusiasm for secession of the Lone Star State. Back in the early 2000s, when UseNet was still a thing, I remember becoming involved in discussions and debates with several Texas secessionists on libertarian discussion groups. They were blithely confident that the Great State of Texas would thrive when not under the yoke of the Evil Feds.

One of the myths that many of the would-be secessionists kept talking about was that Texas somehow, magically, unlike the other states, has some magical right to secede. Something something Articles of Accession something something. This is not correct, so a little history analysis is in order.

When Texas agreed to join the Union in 1845, it was partly as a defensive measure, since Texas had split from Mexico in 1836, and the protection of the United States looked like an attractive option as a way of protecting the state from further provocations and incursions. There was a lot of debate over the terms of accession, the US Congress initially voted against it, and it took quite a while for enough Texans to vote in favour. The annexation by the USA was also accompanied by the creation of a new Constitution of Texas.

This was the text of the annexation treaty. There was no provision included in the annexation treaty for Texas to leave the Union at any point. And following that contretemps a while back, where a number of states tried to leave the Union, only to be subdued by military means, Texas has been a solid member of the United States ever since. So, if you want to secede, you will not only have to convince yourselves, you will need to enter new and uncharted territory and negotiate your departure from the Union. I kept telling some of you “there is no process” back in 2000 or so, you weren’t listening then. No, you can’t do it just by sending an email to Washington DC saying “We’re leaving thanxbai”.

Now…I understand that many of your good folks in Texas are also convinced that your state has the right to split into up to 5 states. I believe that Republican folks rather like this idea, since SHAZAM! Instantly the Senate acquires 8 more Senators, most of whom would, by an amazing piece of happenstance, turn out to be Republicans…

The reality is that it is not quite as simple as that. This article should make that clear. For starters, Congress would have to agree to that expansion. It is also far from clear that the right is explicitly codified in any legislation. Even if such a process exists, it would be something new and unique in US governance. Me being a poor gambler, I wouldn’t bet any of the family moolah on it being a viable and legal course of action.

So, making large assumptions, like (1) Texas really does want to leave, (2) The United States is OK with the idea of this, what about those pesky details?

There are a lot of them. It’s not like an uncontested divorce where both of you split shit down the middle and go your separate ways. No sir. Texas and the Federal Government are kind of welded together, so a lot of stuff has to be, how do you say this, unwound.

First, money. The United States national debt is heading towards $24 trillion at present. The Party Of Fiscal Responsibility spent 4 years, under the tutelage of Donald Trump, cutting taxes, which has increased that number by a significant number of trillions. I never want to hear any lectures again on balancing the books from the GOP. But I digress.

Texas would have to be prepared to assume a pro rata share of the national debt. The most obvious approach is to do it based on population. If we do that math <whirrs calculator>, and we add in the state’s own debt, that means that Texas leaves home with a debt of…$2.087 trillion. A f**k of a lot of debt. However, when divided by the GDP of Texas, which is rather impressive, the Debt to GDP ratio is 113%. This is actually not bad compared to many other countries.

Of course, you don’t necessarily need to use the number of citizens as a measure for how to apportion the debt. You could use land area. That would be better for Texas, because Alaska has the most land area of any state. If you use land area, the number would be $1.721 trillion. Alaska would object, of course.

You could use…ooh, how about head of cattle? But oh dear, this is not a good idea. If you do that, the share is now $2.889 trillion. Texas has the most cattle of any state at present. (At this point, I am sure that the devious secessionists would be working out how to have a massive cattle cull prior to the point at which secession metrics are measured…)

The actual debt is actually less important than the little matter of interest servicing for the debt. You will need to get a really good deal from somebody, in order to avoid the fate of some countries in the past, where interest payments kept adding to their national debt, leading to perpetual insolvency. You will need to find the best deal, so you will need to negotiate with your future lenders (which in the case of the National Debt, will be the US Federal Reserve). The United States will want a deal that is best for it as a country, so you can expect that your debt servicing will be larger in the New Independent World.

The good news is that unlike some of your neighboring states (like New Mexico and Mississippi) you are not dependent on the Federal Government for revenues and money. So you should have no trouble paying your way in the Real World. However, there is one small item that you will probably need to address. You have no State income tax, and the only countries that I am aware of that survive without a personal income tax are a small number of high-dollar tax havens with names like Monaco. So you will probably have a large pill to swallow in that area of fiscal governance. Yes, I hear phrases like “over my dead body” whenever a state income tax is mentioned, but if you (to use an old analogy) want to leave home and buy your own house and live in it you have to have enough cash flow to maintain that house. After the complete disaster this Winter, when Texas showed that it leads the world in electricity generation SNAFUs, I would respectfully suggest that some investment in public infrastructure is going to be at or top of the list of priorities for an independent Texas.

Now…military stuff. Texas has military bases all over the place. They exist in Texas because of the wide open spaces, which provide unparalleled opportunities for military units to Shoot Shit Up and Blow Shit Up without, you know, upsetting the neighbors too much. However, those bases also make major contributions to local economies. You can tell that, by the unseemly lobbying scrum that results in DC whenever, say, the US Navy tries to decide where to base a new leviathan of the sea such as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Some of the elected representatives doing the lobbying would sell family members without a second thought if they could have the new USS BigShip parked in their district.

You can decide to charge the US military more rent for these bases if you like. Your call. However, the US military has plenty of other states eager to accept those bases. There are other states with their own surplus of Wide Open Space, states with names including Dakota, Idaho, Nevada and such like. So you probably shouldn’t try to drive too hard a bargain. A base the size of Fort Hood would leave a major hole in the regional economy if it closed, if you get my drift.

Land borders? Your call if you want to introduce proper land borders. I wouldn’t recommend it. Have you noticed how long those borders really are? How much do you think it would cost to secure that border? I always hear a lot of you Texans whining already about “open borders”, and you only have one border of that type. It would be amusing to see you actually having to set up and manage your own non-open border. Mexico, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana…a lot of miles.

You probably want to negotiate a Free Trade deal and a Freedom of Movement deal with the United States. As for diplomatic representation…your call. However, if you really want to open Texas diplomatic posts worldwide you will need to build new embassies, our own embassies are already full of spi…er, I mean diplomats. And…Texas would not enjoy the benefits of the current US United Nations membership, like the right of veto over a lot of decisions, and the permanent membership of the Security Council.

Air road and rail travel? Texas will have to pay for continued FAA coverage and inclusion in the Federal highway system at normal commercial rates. We do not recommend that you start a toll war. A blockade of borders will hurt Texas far more than the United States. No, you may not charge for the use of Texas airspace, even if you set up your own ATC operation. Airlines will simply divert around Texas, and you will suddenly find Lone Star Air (or whatever you call your shiny new flag carrier) having certain…routing difficulties elsewhere.

The USA will also require you to adhere to its anti-pollution laws. The good neighbors to the North and East do not want to have to clean up after oil refinery blow-ups. Texas is not exactly a low-pollution state. You have been pretty damn lax for decades in environmental enforcement. You’re not going to get to continue like that, even in the New World.

I would recommend that you actually, you know, formulate a detailed business plan for what happens during and after secession. I know that sort of interferes with the normal political approach of making expansive, emotionally appealing promises mostly based on total bullshit, but you will have one chance to get this right, and if you screw up, Texas will become a miserable sinkhole. Think Brexit.

Over to you, my Lone Star friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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