Recently a donor to the Independent Women’s Forum expressed surprised at how much we were able to do given our relatively small budget. Why, he asked, were we producing more—more content, more media, more events, more impact—than some other places with much bigger budgets?
Not to sound immodest, but one reason is that IWF actually practices what we preach when it comes to using technology and having a flexible workplace. That doesn’t just mean that we offer flex-time and have conference calls, rather than flying around for in-person meetings.
Rather, we operate as a fully virtual office. All of our great women work from home, often at opposite ends of the globe, and collaborate using computers, skype and frequent phone calls.
This is a win-win for the women who work for IWF—we have maximum flexibility to get our work done at the time and place of our choosing—and for our supporters. We aren’t spending our time commuting or getting dressed for an office, and workers don’t have to buy an expensive lunch at a cafeteria during an official “lunch hour.”
From an organizational perspective, IWF isn’t wasting money on offices and overhead, which means that more of our money goes to support our programs, rather than to keep the lights on. Our staff members generally earn less money than workers at many other similar organization, but that’s in part because all of us place a high value on the truly flexible work arrangement that IWF affords.
This isn’t just bragging about how great IWF is, but it speaks to an important policy issue. None of this would be possible without the widespread availability of modern technologies. I’ve been around long enough to remember when IWF did have a formal office, where we all met in person and spent the hours of 9 to 6pm in the office every day. That worked fine, but also meant a lot of time was wasted and a lot of time went to maintaining the office. Today, it truly doesn’t matter where anyone who works in front of a computer sits so long as they have a wireless connection, and increasingly it seems, we can get a wireless connection just about anywhere.
We shouldn’t take this for granted. Communication companies have invested billions in creating the infrastructure that makes this possible. We shouldn’t assume that progress will continue indefinitely, especially if government creates policies that make it harder for communications firms to operate, whether that’s through bad tax policy or burdensome regulations.
In fact, some in the wireless industry warn that we are facing a spectrum shortage. Spectrum is the term for the radio frequencies that are used for wireless, as well as other forms of communication, and which government controls access to. If the wireless industry runs short of spectrum, that means that they might not have the capacity to meet the increasing demand for wireless services just a few years down the road.
Policymakers should take this issue seriously. Tomorrow the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is holding a hearing entitled "Wireless Broadband and the Future of Spectrum Policy" to discuss these issues and how to make sure that such technological innovation can continue. This may not make headlines, but it’s critical important to our future. Wherever you are sitting and reading this blog, I bet you are making use of a wireless service and are using technologies that would have been all but unthinkable a few decades ago. Imagine what might happen if all this progress comes to a halt. Or better, imagine what new innovations and communication paradigms might emerge if this progress continues. Let’s all encourage government to create a policy environment that ensures that it does.