Business Week recently devoted an issue to "The Future of Work," and one of the articles described a "telepresence" system from Cisco in which an employee sits in a Cisco office in Texas. While she also appears - Live and in color! - "on a 65 inch, high definition plasma screen with full stereo sound that sits precisely where she did in her old office", facing her boss, before she decided to re-lo to Texas but keep her job in California.
And she can see and hear what's happening back in her old office in San Jose - clearly enough to eavesdrop on her bosses phone conversations, so that she can "anticipate his needs", and clearly enough to give a wave to a colleague walking by.
This is either wonderfully creepy, or creepily wonderful.
At $80,000 a pop, it will be a while before this gets widely adopted, but this could mean the end to home workers standing there bleary eyed in their PJ's scratching their butts.
Having sat through enough endless early-days- of-teleconferencing meetings, in which the remote parties were all jerky and jittery, with latency that made it seem that they were attending the meeting while sitting underwater, I welcome the perfection of this technology as good news.
Still, while it's wonderful, it's also creepy.
While I love not commuting, and not having a routine, I'm actually happy that my full-time career was spent in person, at the office.
There's so much you miss by not being there that telepresence just can't make up for.
- No hall (or ladies' room) chats - unless the telepresence follows everyone. Talk about creepy.
- No shaking hands with someone being interviewed.
- No holding the newborn that the proud mom or dad brings in.
- No Tootsie Pops or Hershey's Kisses to snag from the candy bowl on someone's desk.
- No end pieces of sheet cake. (Oh, no!)
Of course, you also miss the experience of smelling the rotting, supurating yams that some oblivious techie kept in a dark corner of his office. You miss standing in the driving sleet for 45 minutes until the fire-drill all-clear sounds. You miss struggling to change the 10 gallon water bottle when no one taller and stronger's around, and slopping at least a half-gallon onto the floor.
I'm guessing that telepresence will one day be the way we all work remotely. It won't be enough to just be "always on", you'll have to be "always seen."
I don't know. I find the idea a little invasive, but maybe that's because they say the camera adds 15 pounds or so. Let me know when that stops happening, and I may be ready for my close-up, Mr. Chambers.