This winter was one to remember.
Especially in the Washington, D.C. area. Last I heard we have had more snow than Buffalo and Denver. Watching warm weather delay Olympic skiing events I couldn't help thinking they missed the mark by not having the Winter Games in Baltimore. All of this crazy winter weather has given us government folks an unprecedented amount of unplanned time out of the office. I'm not complaining about the days off, but the productivity loss to the government and the cost to the taxpayers is something to be taken very seriously. I was able to bring some work home with me and to stay connected via my Blackberry, but I can't say I was anywhere near full productivity. I was, however, better off than most government workers who were trapped at home with no access to the tools they need to do their jobs. In the era of the iPhone and social networking it seems a little ridiculous that everything inside the Beltway shut down just because people can't make it in to the office.
As a result of the weather closings, the Office of Personnel Management, most Federal government agencies, and the press have put a new focus on telework initiatives. The majority of what I have read on the subject has focused on remote data access, laptops, and other "computer" stuff. That left me wondering why we have such a narrow view of what telework is all about. To me being effective is about more than just being able to access my files. I need to interact with people in a meaningful way. I need to be able to participate in meetings and events around the world as if I were there in person. I know a lot of other people have the same needs and that their productivity depends on more than just a phone and a computer. If AV managers join the telework debate now we can change some of the assumptions and can even use our knowledge and expertise to take the government from a telework model to a location-independent work model. By location-independent I mean that we can help make the work experience as meaningful and productive from home or another remote location as it is from the office. This is the best chance we'll get in a long time to help expand the scope of telework to include videoconferencing, telepresence, streaming media, and other audiovisual services. I'm not suggesting that our agencies should invest in desktop VTC devices and telepresence suites in their employees' homes (as cool as that would be), but they should consult their internal AV experts to better understand the options available for remote access to AV capabilities including software based VTCs that can run on laptops with webcams, and streaming media that can be used for training and information dissemination. A little audiovisual can have a huge impact on productivity whether it is during the next great snow storm, when you are waiting for a plumber, or while the nation avoids a pandemic.
Gary L. Hall is the Geospatial Metadata Officer at National Geospatial - Intelligence Agency in Washington, DC., and the CEO of LocalShare and The New Green Economy.