Tag Archives: Google

Telecommuting vs. Colocation: Changing Attitudes and Trends

This week I would like to start a conversation about the merits of working remotely versus colocation. IBM announced in January that all North American marketing employees will be called into one of six offices around the country, thus ending remote work for that department. This follows other IBM departments that recently called in the troops. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer made a similar move for all employees in 2013 and she was not the first to reverse the trend toward remote work.

My question is this: does colocation make sense in a global workforce, or does innovation flourish when workers are sitting shoulder to shoulder discussing the next breakthrough product or process?

History of Telework

As early as the 1600s, some people were acting as independent contractors by receiving raw materials and producing finished product, all from their home. This was most prevalent in fields such as ironwork or sewing. Often, members of the family would help. Thus was born what we know as the cottage industry and also the first remote workers.

In subsequent years, non-farming jobs moved primarily to cities where factories powered by a growing workforce turned out an array of goods. Offices soon followed, where knowledge workers specializing in accounting or marketing or programming worked. Having everyone together helped with communications and coordination of a large group of people.

With the oil crisis of the 1970s and high gas prices, employers and researchers started to look for ways to keep some employees at home and productive. Improved telecommunications and computing allowed more people to work from home or remote locations. The Clean Air Act of 1990 only accelerated the need to reduce commuting and increase telework. AT&T celebrated the first Telecommuting Day on September 20, 1994 which is befitting of the telecommunication giant. Telework picked up in the 1990s and grew, but by the time Yahoo called back their remote employees in 2013 the pendulum had begun to shift the other way.

A Case for Colocation

The pitch for everyone located in the same office or a limited series of offices has mostly to do with innovation. The argument is that teams can be more innovative when everyone can physically see their coworkers and spontaneous conversations ensue. There is some evidence that this is true. Google encourages employees to come into the office through perks such as transportation via the GBus and free meals on campus. They believe that dining with fellow Googlers will spur innovation. They can meet with other teams around the country and the globe via teleconferencing when necessary, thus promoting their green agenda.

The Argument

I have telecommuted in the past when working with global teams. I had days that opened with phone calls to Europe at 6:00 a.m. and ended with 6:00 p.m. calls to Asia. It was convenient and efficient to work from home. It was also much more efficient than traveling around the globe, although there were times when that was necessary.

I can see the argument for having teams in a central office, but the transition may mean moving families or leaving jobs if a move is not feasible. It also means more commuters clogging roads and more time spent in traffic. Perhaps the self-driving car equipped with wi-fi will be the answer. In the meantime, I think organizations should proceed with caution as they call workers back into the office. They may be trading efficiency for innovation.


Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Are you a telecommuter, and does it work for you? Do you find that you work less or more than if you commuted to an office every day? Do you miss the personal interaction with a physical work team? Perhaps together we can come up with the ideal solution.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Pokemon Go and the Future of Augmented Reality

Photograph of a smart phone screen with an active Pokemon Go game.Augmented reality took a big leap forward this month with the release of Pokemon Go from Niantic Labs and partner Nintendo. This game has become very popular and has drawn praise and criticism from different groups. Many are excited about getting players young and old out of the house, but some are concerned about the potential security problems when the lines are blurred between the virtual and real worlds. Personally, I am fascinated by the social implications of this technology and its potential benefits in gaming and extended professional scenarios.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go requires players to chase Pokemon cartoon characters in the real world using a smart phone. It uses the smartphone camera and clock to overlay one of 151 characters in real places such as the city, the beach, the forest or in buildings. The player must collect these characters wherever they may be. Water characters can only be collected near waterways and night fairies can only be collected at night. The game has become so popular that Darwin police in Northern Australia have alerted players that they do not need to come into the police station to catch a particular character:

For those budding Pokemon Trainers out there using Pokemon Go — whilst the Darwin Police Station may feature as a Pokestop, please be advised that you don’t actually have to step inside in order to gain the pokeballs. It’s also a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast. Stay safe and catch ’em all!

This is not the first augmented reality game, but so far it’s the most popular. Niantic released a similar game called Ingress in 2015. Pokemon Go uses the same database of features and is basically Ingress using Nintendo characters.

Recent History

Niantic Labs was a Google creation but spun off last fall during the Alphabet restructuring. The original intent by Google was to build things on top of the incredible mapping technology that they already have. Think about Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google Street View. They have a comprehensive database of geo coordinates, so it makes sense to augment (no pun intended) that work with a game. This is a great example of an innovation extension.

My Interest

I have seen similar application research recently in the field of education. The premise is that if young people could be enticed to go to a park or a museum or into the forest, they could learn about the features of that location and earn tokens at the same time. Basically, this is the gamification of nature or history. I have written about this topic before, but I am all in favor of enticing people to go outdoors, whether to search for cartoon characters or for solitude away from the stress and distractions of everyday life.


Games like Pokemon Go could be the first of many popular augmented reality games. While there are still some bugs to be worked out, the technology is promising. Have you played Pokemon Go? Do you think this is a passing fad or the beginning of a new reality? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.