The telepresence economy
January 18, 2009
Ten years ago we could not have imagined online banking or online news. Even five years back internet telephony was a curious innovation. Today I routinely use Skype to chat and talk with coworkers throughout the working day. Whether they are next door or 100 miles away makes little difference. Some of them even work 100% from home. In software engineering Skype is an adequate communication tool. In other professions it is not.
Now extrapolate the current tools, at the current pace of innovation, and imagine something like this:
Multiple large flat screens that envelope you. At the touch of a button you can instantly view any one of your co-workers stations, or any number of them side-by-side. Cameras are always on. Your boss can drop by any time, as can your coworkers.
An etiquette develops, and the tools and features to support it, so you can signal that you are discussing something with Jack or Jill, whether it’s OK to join in the conversation, or you need a private moment.
The experience becomes so refined that it is interchangeable with real face to face contact, and actually easier since it can be started and ended at the touch of a button, and you can quickly scan who is available and who is not.
Over time just about every activity can take place over the wire: Customer service (phone,email, ‘face-to-face’). Back-office (accounting, finance, audit, purchasing, HR. Law and accounting services, even psych consults. Teaching, tutoring. Band practice. Engineering and design (civil, software, mechanical).
The increase in productivity would be enormous (with my completely unscientific estimates):
- Reduced cost of living expenses from living where it makes economic sense instead of where employers are (engineer can live lakeside in Montana for half the price of California): 5%
- Lower oil/energy consumption, automobile wear and tear, infrastructure investment: 5%
- Additional 3 to 10 hours per week spent working instead of commuting: 2%
- Less office space building needed: 3%
- Services chosen based on lower price, not proximity: 2%
The tools are nearly there, just one thing is missing: Universal, reliable, fast connectivity throughout the country.
Fortunately, we are about to get that too.