Telecommuting is very cutting-edge. In theory, by allowing people to work from home it frees them for more play or work and it cuts down on traffic and car-generated pollution. In fact, it also isolates people from their place of business, prevents them from forming collegial relationships that are often necessary to get business done, and allows them to get away with the bare minimum of work, because no one’s watching them too closely.
Nevertheless, because telecommuting seems to be a wave of the future, one Congressman is trying to cut down on his and his colleague’s commutes by taking advantage of it. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) has therefore introduced a House resolution that would allow lawmakers to hold hearings, participate in debates, and vote on legislation from their own district offices. In the statement Pearce issued to The Hill he said,
Thanks to modern technology, members of Congress can debate, vote, and carry out their constitutional duties without having to leave the accountability and personal contact of their congressional districts. Keeping legislators closer to the people we represent would pull back Washington’s curtain and allow constituents to see and feel, first-hand, their government at work.
Corporations and government agencies use remote work technology; it’s time that Congress does the same.
Pearce is correct that the business world increasingly relies on telecommuting. And he’s right that it’s better if Congressmen still remember who their constituents are.
What Pearce has missed, though, is that his proposal comes just as employers are starting to push back. Employers have discovered that it’s not necessarily good for business if their employees no longer show up at work but, as long as they do the bare minimum of work in their own home, still collect paychecks. This is why Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently insisted that her employees return to the office, where she can see what they’re doing and where they can develop functioning relationships with their co-workers.
Mayer’s concerns apply with extra force to Congress. Telecommuting works if you’re doing computer centered work, such as technical writing. Being a member of Congress, however, is a dynamic, people-centered job. You need to know your Congressional colleagues if you want to work with them. You need to be present in the same room as someone testifying if you want to know whether he’s leaking flop sweat or is comfortable and confident. While isolating Congressman in their home districts may give them an easier time of it, it renders them almost unnecessary, as they become just another set of computer drones.
To make an impact, you need to have everyone in one place, as happened when Sen. Rand Paul did his his epic filibuster, one that effectively drew many young conservative Senators to his side. A filibuster loses its impact if all the actors and spectators are sitting comfortably at home, wearing bunny slippers and drinking coffee while watching each other on TV. The same holds true for the power and tension that results when a smart, constitutionally-oriented Senator politely and effectively ridicules an ignorant Democrat warhorse to her face, as happened with Ted Cruz and Dianne Feinstein. If you want to be elected to Congress, you have to accept that working in D.C. is an essential part of your job, and you can’t slough it off by telecommuting.