It is easy to say telework.

It is easy to say telework.

I see around that "thanks" to the coronavirus Italy is focusing on the possibility of making people work remotely, and in particular e-learning. Nothing new, since I am a huge supporter of this method, and nothing wrong since between MOOC and things like coursera, and the whole universe around us, it is not a cutting-edge technology.

The real problem with technology, however, is implementation. It's like when we talk about electronic voting: voting can be as precise and private as a banking transaction, if we implement it with a bank's techniques, infrastructures and methods. It becomes a Rousseau joke if we implement it as an advertising studio does.

In the same way, distance learning can be a tremendous tool if it is used in a qualified way, as many companies that do employee refresher courses do.

The same goes for teleworking.

My personal implementation experience tells me one thing: between perimeter security, implementation tools (you need something that does VPN with adequate capacity for all employees), IT tools that do not require interaction (if you print in the office you clearly have to being in the office to take the piece of paper in hand), and everything, these are systems that require design, implementation, safety and finally training to work well.

Of course, if you use an agile / scrum method you can also work from anywhere, in terms of team and job management. If you use a ticketing system too, in case you don't work in Agile.

So now that it says "for coronavirus now we all work from home" I have a doubt. Because there are two cases:

  • The systems were ready from before, but were not used.
  • The systems are NOT ready, so there are two possibilities.

In the first case, it is necessary to understand why these systems have not been used before. The answer is very simple: corruption. If tomorrow I send 40% of the employees home, I pay less electricity, I pay less heating, I pay less paper on printers, I pay less phone bills (assuming I can switch to a VOIP), etc. Then there are fewer people who go by car, who go out to eat at noon, and the whole economy that revolves around the fact that "we go to work". So there are disgruntled suppliers.

Therefore, all the "suppliers" (or at least the beneficiaries) have corrupted those who make the decision to adopt telework, (through the usual means, that is, the unions) and nothing has ever been done.

In the second case, that is, the complete unpreparedness of the infrastructures (which I consider more probable in those entities / companies that have never taken this into consideration), there are two possibilities.

The first possibility is to be discarded. In the best of cases, insecure, ineffective due to inexperience, little experienced, and often proprietary systems would be obtained. But someone will try, in case there is a "friend beppe" who wants a contract.

But in the case of botched systems, staff would be even more unprepared and confused, and everything would end up in nothing. In terms of security, then, it would be unmanageable.

The second possibility is that these problems can be bought as SaaS. This however does not exclude a certain financial commitment in the infrastructure, by those who adopt the system: in any case, the employee to work from home must have a computer, a fast connection, and some equipment (headphones / microphone / camera) that are compatible with the rest.

That said, one has to wonder what the adoption curve would be.

In this case, as happened in the schools that have adopted Discord, the adoption curve will be simpler, but for a specific reason:

Students already know how to use it.

Discord is a chat system widely used for gaming, and therefore it already provides a whole series of tools which, if they are not specific, at least are tested for teamwork (at least in the abstract). There are those who have used Whatsapp for this purpose, and those who have used Telegram, but in the end the point is the same: the adoption rate is much better because the adoption dates back to years ago.

It is clear that if the majority of users are already trained in the use of an instrument, and someone says "well, let's complete the adoption by bringing it among the minorities", the adoption curve speeds up.

As for the school, I personally believe that it is possible to adopt "fast enough" distance learning: the only bottleneck is unions and teachers, who have a fifty executioner to be measured. And they know that all these systems leave a trace. Everything remains written, and can be brought as evidence.

When I was in high school, a teacher of religion tried to convince us that an abortion was carried out by entering the woman with scissors like chicken and cutting the living child into pieces, which according to the priest some doctor had even heard screaming.

It is clear that such a whore, in the field of distance learning, would be a difficult moment to achieve without scandals. Furthermore, the fact that each lesson is actually recorded means that it is also possible to evaluate the skills or effectiveness of the teachers (provided they do not share a series of videos and materials between classes, regardless of the teacher).

It is obvious, in my opinion, that the main obstacle to this innovation will be the school unions and teachers. But school is the simplest case because, in fact, students already have an optimal adoption curve.

Then comes the public service. If no one had ever used telework before, and it wasn't implemented, the adoption curve could be very slow. It doesn't matter that everyone is using Whatsapp as if they had always used it. And it doesn't matter that everyone is using social networks: when they tell him to use these tools for work, they will fall from the clouds. Scene already seen. I am old enough to remember unions that make scenes for the adoption of the mouse , because it happened without specific training .

The problem of adopting teleworking in the public sector is (when the job does not require particular contacts with the public: being a nurse is also a "public sector") consists mainly in the traceability of the work. The need for a ticket system, for alignment meetings, for sharing documentation in electronic format, requires something more than an advanced chat system (as in the case of lessons).

It is not just a question of guaranteeing the interactivity between the employees, but of guaranteeing the traceability of the work, and the documentation on the work done, so that it can be used. Furthermore, since people do not work alone, alignment meetings must take place, which must take place at a specific time.

When you say such a thing to a public sector unionist, he immediately turns up his nose. He will start complaining about the "big brother", of whom he knows everything because he seems to have read a book called "the big brother", like the television broadcast. And aside from the clichés, the fact that the work done entirely in this way is completely traceable (and must be) obviously also terrifies the management. The documentation part then becomes unsustainable.

First of all, in order to be able to work remotely on an administrative system that requires consulting the historian, all the historian must be available in digital format, and also accessible remotely. Whether a unified documentation system exists, which exists in a unified format and which is searchable, and which includes every possible use-case, is all to be discussed.

The countries that have implemented such things have taken a good decade (12 years in Germany, 13 for North Rhine Westphalia, 9 years in France which is very centralized, UK is not even at the beginning, with the exception of London), so it is not a project that takes place in times of an epidemic.

You will say: what if I only make people work at home one to two days a week? It is a formula that I know, since in my personal case it is mandatory, but there is a problem: if the structure is unprepared, on telework days you can only do things that do not require physical presence. (In my case , actions on laboratory hardware). This, however, implies a reorganization of the work, which means that if a specific task is telematic it will typically be moved in the days of telework.

The impact of this way of working on public services is difficult to calculate, but considering the timing of the public administration it could probably be easily absorbed.

The real trouble, however, are the fears of public sector unions: when EVERYTHING is digitized to make it compatible with telework, in fact, the next step is to open the system and allow ordinary people to interact with the public administration digitally. If everything is done using, as I know, a ticket system (or an Agile system, although I don't see this method very well in the PA), what prevents the individual citizen from opening a ticket when he has a request or a malfunction to report, or do it through a Helpdesk?

Technically, nothing more.

The disappearance of the concept of a branch (which is already taking place in other sectors, such as banking) is the main terror of the PA union. The counter activities are the most unionized, for the simple reason that when there is a strike in progress the closed counter is its most obvious expression. If we put a ticketing system at the citizens' disposal, the strike will slow down the progress of the ticket, but the person who starts the request from the mobile phone does not have the feeling of who comes to the counter and finds it closed, after losing a morning of work for this.

I give an example that I know: the German tax system displays APIs that allow you to make your tax return, pay slips, print receipts and so on. (it means that the cash register is basically software that you can install on the laptop).

Obviously these services are also offered on a website, which being designed by a German bureaucrat transforms you into a Kafkaesque cockroach for so long that it is easy to use. But the fact that there are these APIs available has given birth to a whole series of companies that do not like cockroaches, they write simple interfaces and for the modest sum of 15 euros they allow you to make the tax return by yourself. (there are also wizards, on sale in supermarkets, but honestly I keep wondering who the hell still has a CDROM player on the computer).

From the taxpayer's point of view this is convenient, but from the point of view of the Finanzamt this has "made visits drop" on their site (I doubt anyone in their right mind can use it), but has created a private ecosystem .

Exactly what the Italian unions (who sell the CAF and "tax advice") do not want.

By this I mean that the possibility of teleworking requires digitization. But digitization always ends up turning to the end user, just as home banking apps are making bank branches disappear.

This is a global process: imposing telework requires COMPLETE digitization, but digitization has a strong impact on the relationship with the citizen. But today the difficult relationship with the citizen is entirely delegated to a series of intermediaries, among which the service companies stand out which are always in the orbit of the unions.

For this reason, I am glad that schools and some sectors of the public sector experiment and become familiar with the method. But I'm just as sure that as soon as the emergency is over, everything will be the same again. The unions themselves will take care to make sure that this idea is seen as an emergency system, and becomes like those evacuation schemes of the building in case of fire, which we all see hung but nobody ever reads.

It is easy to say telework. But between saying and doing there are trade unions.

Last but not least, there is a problem of broadband diffusion. As long as we're in big cities, it's all right. But asking an employee to work from home when they get only 2 Mb / s at home (the situation of my family members, who officially have the bandwidth up to 20Mb, is that) means to put it on the cross.

It is true that I do 40% of the time from home, but it is also true that I have FTTH, and the majority have VDSL2 s G.Fast. If I didn't (and there are areas of Germany where there isn't), it would be much more complicated. So, we also need to ask ourselves what the limit of public infrastructure is: this is exactly the moment when we should reflect on how many things "could be done" with broadband, but not in the abstract.

I mean, how many things can REALLY be done. Like slowing down an epidemic.


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