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Sun, March 24

'Future of Work' author sees a solid trend

While his main office is in Berkeley, Calif., Grantham operates most of the time out of an office in his home in The Ranch. He takes a monthly trip back to California.

Nationwide, Grantham estimates that about 15 percent of the workforce is "distributed." Although somewhat lower in Prescott, because of the high number of retirees, the number is growing here as well.

"The biggest driver (of the trend) is demographics," Grantham said. As the workforce ages, it puts a higher value on "quality of life, as opposed to just compensation."

So, as the technology comes on line to make the move possible, workers are relocating to places that they want to live, as opposed to living where the work is. "There is a changing attitude – people are saying, 'I'm not going to go to that big gray building,'" Grantham said.

A "recovering academic" with a doctorate degree, Grantham began working from his home in about 1985, long before telecommuting became a trend. The movement really took off in about 2001, he said, with the widespread availability of broadband.

Indeed, technology is often a deciding factor in workers' decisions about location. Tony Reeves, a telecommuter since 1995, acknowledged that Prescott wasn't the easiest place in his early years on the job. "We didn't even have cable modems," he said.

And technology is one area that communities could concentrate on to attract telecommuters, Grantham said. From the economic development standpoint, he said, communities should "encourage the infrastructure."

Greg Fister, economic development coordinator for the City of Prescott, agreed that telecommuters are a desirable segment of the workforce, because they usually bring with them good wages and little of the impact of other businesses.

But, Fister said, "It's difficult to recruit them and market to them." Even so, he pointed out that Prescott does "market our quality of life, which is a big reason people telecommute."

Grantham has another idea for targeting telecommuters – building "Third Place" facilities that would serve as an occasional office and meeting place for telecommuters.

"The biggest problem (with telecommuting) is social isolation," Grantham said. Offering a technologically advanced site where workers could conduct meetings would fill a social gap for telecommuters. He is currently working with the Arizona Department of Commerce to encourage such sites in the state.

Along with the benefits that telecommuting brings to workers, Grantham said it also helps companies, which can experience a 30-percent cost savings.

That "powerful motivator," is helping to break down the resistance from middle managers, Grantham said.

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