I was reminded of one of my personal great moments in customer service when I ran across this article in the Daily Mail. Honestly, I think that the provision of expensive gift hampers for the holidays is one of those in which British merchants have it all over American, but then they had a long, long, long head start on us.
It amused me this week, to read of the list of professions which have proved historically to always provide a living of sorts to those who practice them; fine carpentry, construction carpentry, metalworking, innkeeping and I don’t know what-all. Seamstressing was not among them, which is a pity … but since it his historically been an almost exclusively female-practiced profession/hobby/amusement, perhaps it’s one of those things that we can really blame the patriarchal establishment for. Women could make a living, even if relatively a barely marginal one from sewing, although if you glommed onto a high-visible and high-value client who patronized you extravagantly, a certain degree of prosperity would be assured … but I think mostly that it was one of those things that women were expected to do anyway as part of keeping and maintaining a house, which brought the wages down for those exercising the skill professionally. Eh … never mind.
I have to confess to a lot of dissonance with the current conduct of Amazon.com – being that I have a huuuuge number of books up there on Amazon, buy an equally huuge number of books from them, and as an indy author among many, went into enthusiastically providing content for their launch of the Kindle e-reader early on. The Kindle was seen (correctly, in my humble opinion) as a means to economically route around the whole indigestible bolus of providing print copies of books to interested readers through traditional publishing, a means which involved discounts to a distributor, print costs, shipping costs, storage costs, return discounts and return charges … it cut out that whole cycle of shipping and accounting for concrete (in the metaphorical sense, not the literal) copies of printed books, in favor of … wheee! Text files downloaded to a reader device! Instanter! No shipping or warehouse fees, no dependency on the eccentric whims or availability of a local bookstore! No return fees, for possibly and eventually a sullen little trickle of royalties three or four months after the original sale! Freedom! Our books, straight to the reader! I did a talk early on, to a book club in a small town in South Texas, where there was nothing much for 170 miles in any direction for any but perhaps small religious bookstores, now that drug stores and the like no longer even have the wire racks of paperbacks stocked by small distributers the way that they used to do. I think that most of the readers at that event bought the Adelsverein Trilogy on their Kindles – all that they needed to do was order the book, go outside (remember, this is at least a decade ago) and bam! They had their book! Was the 21st century great, or what?!!
Another horrific gaffe in retail marketing – one which falls into the category of “grotesquely bad retail marketing decisions which will become a cautionary lesson in future marketing textbooks.” This spectacular gaffe involves a retailer of fashion-trendy and very colorful women’s athletic clothing, Fabletics – a company which started online in 2013 offering a subscription plan – somewhat controversial since the subscription charges were not always transparent, and branched out into brick and mortar locations. One of the founders is Kate Hudson, daughter of Goldie Hawn, so there probably has been some advantages to a celebrity connection; easy to get that one-on-one with Oprah Winfrey, I presume. The company appears to this point to have been pretty savvy in a competitive field, marketing-wise, so all props to them. I’m not a customer of theirs in any case; the gym and the jogging track are not places where I go to show off my fashion sense. I’m old-school in that I prefer to work out in grey sweatpants and a baggy tee shirt.
The general attitude toward working from home has certainly changed over the last several years. In 2013, the then-CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, banned work-from-home at her company. And in 2017, IBM established a similar ban. Both of these actions were based on perceived needs to improve productivity and collaboration at those companies
But in 2020, a lot of companies that moved to work-from home in the Covid-19 environment…because they had no choice if they wanted to continue operating at all…have apparently found it to be working to their satisfaction, and many though not all employees like it, too. And there is starting to be significant impact on where people choose to live…see these comments from the governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu. The term ‘zoomtowns’ has been applied to locations where people choose to live and work remotely, based on a locality’s attractive characteristics and good Internet connectivity.
I do think that a comprehensive work-from-home environment can result in losing something in terms of unplanned interactions…I’ve personally observed several significant product and business initiatives that resulted from such interactions, and there are also interesting historical cases. But such things are difficult to measure, and financial benefits and convenience of work-from-home are likely to prevail, perhaps excessively so in some cases. In any event, the Yahoo! and IBM approach of broad-scale top-down corporate edicts is unlikely to be a good one.
Another kind of remote work involves the use of people at remote locations…though not necessarily at home…to perform machine-control tasks that would previously have had to be done on-site. The robots being used by Federal Express at its Memphis facility sometimes encounter problems that they can’t solve…they can be ‘advised’ by humans located in San Antonio. There are projects underway to make municipal water treatment plants remotely operable, either for emergency backup (as in a pandemic) or for normal operations, and there are also initiatives focused on remote operation of other kinds of infrastructure, utility, and industrial facilities.
If something can be done by people who are remotely located within the United States, then in most cases it will also be doable by people who are remotely located in other parts of the world. In my 2019 post telemigration, I wrote about the increasing feasibility of offshoring services work, not only manufacturing. A lot of this has been going on for software development as well as for customer service.
It may turn out that, in many cases, remote work in the US turns out to be just a waystation on the road to remote work somewhere else.