Telecommuting USA: Stuck on the threshold of change
Thu 19 Mar 2015
Michael Shear is the President of the Broadband Planning Initiative in Washington DC. In this collation of his recent thoughts on telecommuting for The Stack, Michael envisions a country on the threshold of major economic and infrastructural shifts – but stuck there…
We are faced with a number of critical challenges to find new ways of building or re-building our communities and local economies. The paradox is that while we are in the throes of change, in large part from globalization and the disruptions caused by information and communications technologies, we have yet to engage in a thoughtful and thorough conversation how to embrace this set of transformative infrastructure tools in ways that provide effective solutions to our challenges.
In part, the dilemma is exacerbated by the nature of information and telecommunications as somewhat ‘invisible’. Our schools of urban development and public policy include little, if any, curricula on this topic. Economic and regional development organizations have limited understanding of how to identify aggregate demands and opportunities for incorporating this powerful infrastructure tool into short-term and long-term planning.
The information economy and information technologies have caught us by surprise
Information and communications technologies have swept across the globe and their economic impact affects every community throughout the United States. Not only has this revolution accelerated the growth in the information economy but it has also facilitated the rapid transfer of American jobs to other countries. As America struggles to find its policy footings regarding these swiftly advancing services and technologies, fundamental changes to social and economic structures are well underway.
While classical views on the future of metropolitan communities, regional economic development and sustainability planning approaches provide strong emphasis (if not sole) on the transportation and mass transit infrastructure or focus on increasing densities, they exclude any mention of information and communications infrastructure as a tool for planning 21st century communities.
As global labor markets have rapidly evolved and manufacturers have moved operations abroad to derive lower labor costs, communities have been left devastated by their dependence on single employer models.
As a ‘new’ infrastructure, relative to transportation, telecommunications planning and implementation is left primarily to commercial service providers with little involvement from community leaders and planners relative to creating a community co-operative needs assessment or vision.
In most instances, public leaders lack the familiarity and capability to facilitate telecommunications infrastructure innovation in their communities. The pace of globalization and corporate access to foreign labor has increased the likelihood that the private sector will invest more heavily in developing economies than here in the United States. While employers used to provide a level of assurance to employees for continued job security, medical coverage and on-going education, leaders and planners are now finding those assurances are falling more directly on the communities themselves.
There is a general understanding that something must be done to advance telecommunications infrastructure throughout the United States and that a correlation exists between advanced telecommunications infrastructure and economic gain. Our initial efforts have focused on the general notion that ‘more connections’ and ‘faster speed’ will achieve positive economic benefits and that universality is the cornerstone of our initiatives. In essence, this ‘shotgun’ approach will yield some results but may not be the only effective approach to marshal the full potential of telecommunications resources.
To paraphrase Luc De Brabandere (The Forgotten Half of Change -2005): It would seem that the very foundations of our life and society have shifted. Information is now the key resource and we are obliged to rethink space, time causality and perception, since the concepts on which they were based are no longer what they were. For change to be successful, we have to change on two levels: our reality, the things we do and our perception, the way we think.
Economy in transition
Rapid globalization is, in large part, the consequence of the revolution in information and communications technologies and the rise of the Internet.
Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize author, pointed out in his book, The World is Flat (2005), that globalization was propelled by the unconscious confluence of a number of technology events. The disruptive and transformative nature of these technologies gave rise to a rapid transference of knowledge and subsequently the jobs associated with it to the lesser developed nations. In essence, it has commoditized labor.
Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, writes in his recent book, ‘The Coming Jobs War’ (2011), “What the whole world wants is a good job” which he defines as a formal job outside the home with a specific and predictable paycheck. He says that currently there are approximately 3 billion people competing for 1.2 billion ‘formal’ jobs and that this contention is one of the most critical issues we face today.
Bill Davidow, tech-industry executive, venture capitalist And author, writes in the Atlantic Magazine (The High Cost of Low Bandwidth- 1/25/2012) “When we attempt to understand the implications of the Internet Age, the first thing we need to do is recognize that office buildings, retail stores, air travel, lecture halls, and paper are just clunky, expensive, and low-bandwidth interconnections. Many things that seem as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar are, in fact, information proxies in disguise. We can view these information proxies as two separate pieces: an information sensitive piece, and a second piece with a valuable function that cannot be displaced by better virtual environments. The Internet peels away the information-carrying portions of these physical things and institutions. Frequently it leaves behind skeletons of little value. In the process, the Internet restructures and renders much of our physical infrastructure obsolete.
Community growth models and corporate planning processes still retain this ‘single location’ mentality
In the boom of the post-WWII industrial age economy, two predominant factors existed. The first was that our workforce was focused on manufacturing and factories. The second was the reliance on transportation and creation of our national highways to facilitate mobility. The production of goods required a single location to bring all the tools of productivity together – raw materials, power, transportation, and labor. Every community vied with neighboring communities to lure employers to move to their locations with the promise it would produce jobs in the local community. As global labor markets have rapidly evolved and manufacturers have moved operations abroad to derive lower labor costs, communities have been left devastated by their dependence on single employer models.
American workers and the American economy have transitioned to services and knowledge-based jobs, which are performed, increasingly, in cyber-space. But community growth models and corporate planning processes still retain this ‘single location’ mentality and, given the growth in extended metropolitan areas, are paying the price in terms of the growing costs of building and maintaining transportation infrastructure. The need to use all our infrastructure methodologies to expand access is critical and broadband represents a more realistic choice to support the knowledge-based workforce.
Along with an erosion of manufacturing jobs and the impact of global labor markets has also come the deterioration of the employer-employee social contract. In the post WWII economy, the employer-employee contract assured long-term job security, advancement, education, and medical insurance. The outsourcing of manufacturing (and other) jobs has changed the nature of work in America and has given rise to the knowledge workforce. But rapid globalization and commoditization of labor has eroded the foundation of this critical social contract between employer and employee. Job security and advancement, on-going education, medical insurance, a place to work, and the tools and energy to power them are falling increasingly on the individual and the community. If these critical elements are not available in the community, people leave to look elsewhere.
With the growing global labor market, individual incomes stagnate while the cost of living rises and workers are left with less disposable income to help stimulate the economy. If a more suitable, permanent and holistic method can be developed by employing telecommunications infrastructure to reduce the cost of access to jobs, then workers will retain more of their incomes to the benefit of their local community.
Telecommunications policy and market factors
For years, leaders have argued that we have a ‘transportation congestion crisis’. Moreover, while major annual studies (such as the TTU’s Urban Mobility Study) emphasize we cannot build our way out of the problem, planning organizations spend the vast majority of time and money trying to do just that. We have been restricted from finding solutions that capitalize on the power of telecommunications technologies by the limitations of how we describe the problem.
Since the bulk of transportation congestion problems occur in major metropolitan areas, and a major contributor to this congestion is the daily commuter, we should recognize that the nature of work has substantially shifted in the past several decades to information jobs and recast the problem in a broader understanding that what we are dealing with is an ‘access’ problem.
Reframing the problem will allow us to expand the number of potential solutions to include the uses of information technology to expand access with a direct impact on reducing transportation congestion. Without changing the definition of the problem, we are left with only allocative approaches that constrain access and only produce marginal gains rather than adaptive approaches that may yield exponential gains.
The shifting population densities in our major extended metropolitan areas and our substantial reliance on gasoline, have demonstrated that transportation alone is an expensive and losing proposition as the predominant method of access
Classic transportation planning focuses on optimizing existing capacity and expanding access by building new capacity. In addition, as with telecommunications infrastructure, the challenge is to create methods of financing and maintaining capacity in a way that is efficient, economical, and socially equitable. Transportation (mobility) is the predominant focus of community discussions around infrastructure and access. The time, money, and energy devoted to this method of access dwarfs any discussion (if any exist) regarding telecommunications infrastructure.
It is only natural that transportation is a more formalized and familiar focus of leaders and planners, while telecommunications is somewhat of a mystery and therefore fraught with uncertainty and reluctance. Our reliance and experience with transportation bridges centuries and the industrial economy required all the tools of productivity be brought to a single physical location. The shifting population densities in our major extended metropolitan areas and our substantial reliance on gasoline, have demonstrated that transportation alone is an expensive and losing proposition as the predominant method of access.
Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox have written in The New Geography that these migrations are not producing concentrations into the inner cities as much as more diffuse and widening dispersion patterns around the inner core. This dynamic will further exacerbate the limitations of planning based predominately upon transportation and transit to address access needs.
More recently, communication technologies have evolved rapidly and the nature of work has become more information-focused. Given the rising relevance and increasing capabilities of information technologies in our economy, leaders and planners will need to consider expanding alternative approaches. Finding a balance of methods of access can yield more timely and effective relief on congested highways.
A closely associated debilitating economic impact of the reliance on transportation is the cost and waste of gasoline and loss of time. Economically, these costs are borne more severely on the less fortunate in our communities. At a time our economies are struggling to recover, we are bleeding valuable local economy dollars into our gas tanks. The outcome is that people must learn to live on less disposable income or be paid more. In an age of global labor forces, we can agree they will not be paid more.
Finally, there are the health implications. Air pollution and resulting instances of strokes, lung and heart diseases, and traffic fatalities all add an immense cost to our persistent and limited focus on transportation methodologies to build our metropolitan communities. Once again, these factors affect those of lesser means.
The OECD’s recent findings (OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050) on growing CO2 emissions predict increased world demand for fossil fuels and continued migration of people into already crowded major metropolitan centers to further reinforce the argument that a broader set of approaches is necessary. According to the OECD, the dynamics of this vast migratory shift into metropolitan centers will accelerate over the next 35 years, swelling from 50% to 70% of the world’s population.
The ITU’s Broadband Commission Working Group on Climate Change has released a report The Broadband Bridge: Linking ICT with Climate Action for a Low Carbon Economy [PDF], which claims that ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) and broadband in particular could play a much greater role in reducing the world’s output of greenhouse gases, if the right steps are taken.
The report makes 10 recommendations for (largely government) initiatives ‘to spur the kind of change that will result in a strong, integrated and bold approach to unleashing broadband’s role in the networked, low carbon society of the future.’ And it identifies ‘A lack of awareness about ICT and broadband’s enabling role’ as a key challenge going forward. ‘Policies and strategies will need to consider how to influence individual behaviour and raise awareness to enhance the uptake of broadband-enabled low-carbon solutions among consumers worldwide,’
The report argues that broadband offers unique opportunities to spearhead the transition to a carbon-constrained world and that, to reach its full potential, broadband needs to be a component of climate change strategy, backed up with strong policies in support of economy-wide emissions reductions.
“In many countries, it is this integrated regulatory framework that is the crucial missing link to achieve carbon reduction commitments through the use of broadband networks, services and applications […]
“For broadband to deliver on its climate change reduction potential, a range of obstacles and challenges need to be overcome. Foremost among these is the need to break down the silos that tend to exist between different sectors of society and within governments, through greater dialogue and collaboration […]
“Developing and adopting a long-term view is necessary too, particularly at a time of financial crisis and austerity measures that could otherwise inhibit investment and result in short-term planning.”
The report claims also that the current regulatory environment promotes a ‘silo’ approach in which decisions are made in isolation and separate communication networks are built in parallel.
“There is a lack of policy targeted at, on the one hand, introducing incentives to adopt greener ICT solutions, and on the other, dismantling barriers to implementation like the subsidisation of CO2 intensive industries – a situation that is compounded by a lack of cross-ministry co-ordination. Technological advances are currently outpacing government policy – a gap that needs to be closed by raising awareness of the opportunities technology presents to achieve national climate goals.”
In the end it’s about access…
“Accessibility is a key ingredient of well-being and prosperity in contemporary societies. The ability of individuals, families, entrepreneurs and firms to exchange goods and services, to be where activities are being carried out, and to interact with people on a regular basis is crucial not only to economic life but also to the quality of life. With the growth of economic and social networks over the course of the past two centuries and the spatial dispersion of activities, transportation has become the backbone of accessibility systems. It is also a crucial part of economic growth and social interaction in most countries. Unfortunately, the adverse effects of transportation have a greater impact on the natural and human environment than two other important mechanisms for providing access: proximity and telecommunications. ” – Air Pollution from Ground Polution [PDF], United Nations and World Bank – 2002
The issue of accessibility that will lay the foundation of our economy and society for decades to come.
Security, continuity of operations, and emergency preparedness
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the increasing frequency and vulnerability to cyber-attacks, leaders at all levels of government are spending more time and money to improve security, emergency preparedness and continuity of operations which, ultimately, is a local concern. While these three areas are primarily addressed independently, they are intimately inter-related. All three need to be developed and their effectiveness assessed under at least three different sets of conditions: 1) Day-to-day, 2) Notification events (i.e. forecasted inclement weather), 3) Non-notification events (i.e. earthquakes, terrorism and cyber attacks).
Security of data, systems, networks, places, and people is an on-going and day-to-day activity. Given the rapid pace of change in technologies and mobility and the growing connectedness of today’s world, both the requirements and challenges of providing security have multiplied.
Continuity of operations refers to government initiatives (COOP) and Business continuity, the commercial sector counterpart (BCP) describe the efforts to assure that operations or, at least essential operations are uninterrupted under a variety of emergency scenarios. Redundancies, backup services, and alternate sites are all aspects of COOP and BCP, which must be at the highest state of readiness at all times.
We must understand the potential to erode personal privacy based upon employers’ needs to monitor security and performance
Emergency preparedness focuses on preparations for rapid responsiveness and is primarily oriented to the re-active capabilities of systems and people. However, preparedness can include pro-active planning and posturing, which can greatly enhance the effectiveness of re-active preparation. This pro-active process needs to be integrated into and coordinated with Security and Continuity of Operations thinking.
Impact on the Individual
We also need to consider the impact these global and technological changes have on the individual. In The High Cost of Low Bandwidth at The Atlantic, Bill Davidow said of our physical infrastructure that “We can view these information proxies as two separate pieces: an information sensitive piece, and a second piece with a valuable function that cannot be displaced by better virtual environments” reminds us that there is a social dimension and special aspect to the way and place we interact. We, as people, have a certain work persona; we dress ‘for work’ and we go ‘to work’. There is a certain camaraderie in being with our fellow workers and there is a certain level of job security that we are being noticed and not being left out. And there appears to be sound evidence that job security is a justifiable concern. Publishing ‘Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters’ in the June 2012 Issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, Professors Kimberley Elsbach and Daniel Cable state “Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long.”
As the distinction between the work place and home is eroded and the workday is no longer confined to a specific period, the issue of ‘job creep’ creates unfairness, undermines relationships and may, over time, reduce productivity. On July 23, 2012, The New York Times published ‘Silicon Valley Says Step Away From the Device’ stating “The concern, voiced in conferences and in recent interviews with many top executives of technology companies, is that the lure of constant stimulation — the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates — is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions.” Coincidently, Professors Mary Noonan and Jennifer Glass published ‘The Hard Truth About Telecommuting’ in the June 2012 Issue of Monthly Labor Review, which they stated “Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, and where it has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts; telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers’ needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees”.
The issue of ‘job creep’ creates unfairness, undermines relationships and may, over time, reduce productivity
Moreover, while ‘work is not a place, it is what we do’, everyone still needs a place to do their work. In the effort for employers to reduce costs, employees are being asked to allocate a portion of the homes as a place to work. Not all individuals have ‘extra’ space in their homes. Then there is the provisioning of power, connectivity, and equipment. While some of these expenses may be reimbursed by employers, there is a certain amount of ‘shadow work’ that goes with the maintenance of these elements. Finally, there is the issue of privacy. As more employees are asked to work from home, we must understand the potential to erode personal privacy based upon employers’ needs to monitor security and performance. This may become of growing concern for those who conduct more of their work from their homes.
In light of the impact of a global labor force and ‘The Coming Jobs War’, a sense of urgency exists to create a more competitive, flexible and economic model for the workplace. However, we must understand the human dimension and focus efforts on preserving existing jobs if we are to create new jobs.
Jim Clifton says “whether or not you have a good job defines your relationship with your city, your country and the whole world around you. . . . This recession will leave a more noticeable mark on American society than recessions of the past because ‘my job’ defines ‘my identity’ more than ever before.”
Every community requires a core set of elements to be viable in today’s economy including: 1) Jobs and job access, 2) Education at all levels, 3) Medical Services, 4) Government and public services including emergency services and 5) Housing.
Jobs and job access – Communities have long relied on the approach of attracting jobs by attracting employers – one at a time. This has pitted neighboring communities against one another and, in many instances, the reliance on one or several major employers, has been devastating when the employer moves, is acquired, or goes out of business. As jobs move, so do people. Moreover, given the current weakness in the housing market, this has become more problematic. The changing nature of work in America, shifting from a manufacturing to an information economy, has underscored the relevant role of telecommunications infrastructure in re-engineering our economies.
Locating work centers in local communities puts underutilized commercial real estate to work and will improve employee productivity and employers’ abilities to attract and retain quality employees
Education – Access to all levels of quality and affordable education has become more fundamental to our economy and society. We no longer accept that education stops at high school graduation or even college-level degrees, but rather that education is an ongoing necessity to sustain and grow a career. We must recognize that advanced telecommunications infrastructures are a critical component to our success and must be available where we live and work.
Medical Services – As the need for medical services increases relative to America’s aging demographics and the expense of services continue to increase, timely access to quality medical services can be greatly enhanced through telemedicine, and remote clinic services to a greater number of communities.
Government and public services – As community revenues have fallen, leaders are pressed to find more cost-effective approaches to informing the public and responding to their needs. Likewise, emergency services are pressed to do more with less and must find more efficient methods to respond. Once again, telecommunications has a central role to play.
Affordable Housing – With few exceptions, no community can exist if housing is not available to spectrum of socio-economic individuals and families. Available and affordable housing is integral along with access to the above listed elements.
Focused Approach – Changing Remote Work Practices from Accommodation to Calculation
“It is adaptive rather than allocative efficiency which is the key to long run growth. Successful political/economic systems have evolved flexible institutional structures that can survive the shocks and changes that are a part of successful evolution. But these systems have been a product of long gestation. We do not know how to create adaptive efficiency in the short run.” – Douglass C. North, Economic Performance Through Time – 1993 Economics Nobel Prize lecture
As with any new set of tools, we must understand their intrinsic characteristics and appreciate how we might best utilize them for a given outcome. Adapting tools to the way we behave is not the same as adapting our behaviors to the characteristics of these new tools. Inevitably, we do both.
Assessing aggregate community demands and understanding telecommunications as infrastructure might provide an expanded horizon regarding how a more focused approach could enhance the economic competitiveness and sustainability of our communities. This is the basis for the distributed workplace model.
Distributed workplace is a community work model that seeks to change the current single location workplace model by ‘localizing’ access to more jobs and more employers. A network of strategically based work centers, distributed workplace is a higher order model than today’s teleworking approaches. These work centers contain multiple suites with each suite dedicated to 15-50 employees from one company or agency. With a dozen or more tenant organizations, each work center supports 150 to 1000 employees. Each work center is connected to other work centers and each employer’s location using dedicated, secure broadband technologies.
For the vast majority of potential remote workers, the daily commute is the only way to get to the job and keep the job
By creating economies of scale, a central support technical staff provides infrastructure, training, and security to the various work center clients. Employees will have the capability to work for major business and government employers around the metropolitan or regional area from a networked work center located in their communities.
These strategic office networks will achieve economies of scale and create a secure, scalable platform for rapid geographic expansion to other suburban and rural communities providing residents local access to jobs. In addition, there are economic incentives to develop distributed work centers extending employment opportunities to part-time working parents, students, and individuals with disabilities.
Locating work centers in local communities puts underutilized commercial real estate to work and will improve employee productivity and employers’ abilities to attract and retain quality employees. Localizing jobs more easily offers employment opportunities to part-time working parents, students and those with disabilities. Distributed workplace is a permanent deployment of employees, which produces measurable and predictable reduction in transportation congestion while immediately converting gasoline dollars into ‘local economy’ dollars. Furthermore, this new approach begins to provide a higher-level security for data, systems, and employees than current methods.
Knowledge in the community
Distributed Work Centers will do for area employers what retail malls did for retailers in the past – expand access. In this case, access to knowledge workers from a greater number of area-wide communities and in a way that greatly reduces the employees’ gas costs and helps address the transportation congestion issues plaguing every major metropolitan community in America.
Some advocates of telework believe that we all should work from home or a coffee shop. A portion of the workforce are successful using home as their workspace. However, the data regarding the potential for remote working is clear – only a small percentage of the potential remote workforce can or are willing to work remotely under the current approaches. A predominant argument is that the problem for the lower than expected level of telework participation is ‘middle-management resistance’. Given the complexities of the changing dynamics of the workplace, it is more likely that there is no ONE problem. There are a number of issues associated with the way we work, our behaviors at work, the nature of social interaction (not cyber-social) and the real need for the majority to preserve a separation of our work life and our home life.
Remote working (or teleworking) predominately has remained a ‘privilege’ of the better education, higher-paid and senior employees of most organizations (See Lister and Harnish – 2011). For the vast majority of potential remote workers, the daily commute is the only way to get to the job and keep the job. Of the approximately 120M daily commuters, about 50M to 60M are knowledge workers (meaning they theoretically could perform their jobs from ‘anywhere’). But, on any given day less than 3M do work from home or remotely – once you purge the home businesses and self employed (though they are not part of the daily commuting workforce anyway). And, if advocates of work-from-home suggest we all work from home, what impact will this have on already depressed commercial office space markets?
We have tried telework or drop-in-centers. Certain communities have incubators that cater to the entrepreneurs. However, we have yet to strike upon a more holistic model for the vast majority of knowledge workers. Though we have felt and borne the brunt of the information economy’s ‘flattening of the world’ we have yet to find a comprehensive and secure multi-location methodology for deploying our workforce. Ironically, these same disruptive technologies are causing a tremendous challenge to retail malls and the retailers dealing with growing on-line behaviors.
The architecture for distributed workplace networks and community-based centers is designed to integrate the other essential building blocks of distance learning, telemedicine, day care and after-school programs, government services, and emergency preparedness based upon the needs of each community. Creation of these networked centers not only enhances access to existing jobs but also creates new technology jobs to support this infrastructure.
The multi-location, distributed workplace model takes advantage of the changing nature of work and balances deployment with security and management oversight while enhancing economic growth and competitiveness. As an adjunct to transportation, transit and land use planning, this broadband methodology may offer more timely relief, may be expanded is a shorter time-frame, and can easily be extended into extra urban and rural communities.
Federal Leadership (in communities where the federal government is a major employer)
For all the pressures to change, including congressional legislation to support telework, most agency and department heads have been vastly unsuccessful at attaining acceptable levels of remote work compliance (currently less than 20% of the 2004 objective).
Although these are ‘discretionary’ laws, increased emphasis on cyber-security, emergency preparedness and continuity of operations planning, requires a more effective and strategic workforce deployment strategy. At a time when pay freezes and rising gasoline prices affect federal workers the most, a distributed workplace initiative can provide a more equitable method to improve their condition. By adapting an aggregated approach to the needs of agencies and departments, the federal government has the opportunity to reduce real estate and IT infrastructure costs, increase security and control while posturing federal employees to be vastly more effective to deal with emergency situations. Not all emergencies provide advance warning and can be predicted.
Many agency and department heads argue the effectiveness of the work-from-home approach to address emergencies but do not differentiate between, for example, forecasted snow outages (notification events) and terrorist attacks (non-notification events). The relevance here is that current telework practices result in less than 3 percent of the federal workforce working remotely on any given day (and that is not the same 3 percent every day). In an event of a non-notification emergency, the likelihood is that too few employees will be postured to respond and may be precluded from being effective due to interruptions in power and connectivity.
Depending on where a ground zero event occurs, federal employees will likely face the daunting challenge to evacuate, hope they can arrive at an alternate work facility (most likely home) and that power and connectivity are available for them to operate under these circumstances. Given these realities, the federal government as employer is in a unique position to lead by example working with communities to demonstrate a more holistic application of information and communications technologies.
Michael B. Shear, Founder of Strategic Office Networks, LLC, and of the non-profit Broadband Planning Initiative, has more than 3 decades experience in bringing new technologies and services to market. Mr. Shear has earned a BA in International Affairs and a MS in Telecommunications from the University of Colorado.