The Challenge with “Work@home” Telecommuting: Is Telecommunting good for organizations, employees or both? Telecommuting has achieved widespread attention from business leaders and employees this year. There seems to be enough traction for it to merit some scrutiny. On balance, does it improve productivity, morale and employee loyalty or erode collaboration, innovation and results.
This year’s Arcus Human Capital Survey found that 18 percent of employed Canadians reporting they telecommute. The comparable statistic is 24 percent in the US according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics- employees who claim to work at least some hours at home each week. The definitions of telecommuting are varied and cover a few hours to several days of telecommuting each week.
Benefits of telecommuting
The widely accepted benefits of telecommuting include cutting employee commuting time and costs, lower energy consumption and reduced office space. In addition, the strategy enhances work-life balance for those with care giving responsibilities. An emerging trend studied by Arcus has been the penetration of telecommuting in 36 industries. Are specific trends driving higher penetration levels in some industries? Our research found that there are several drivers of work@home strategies- a mix of shifting employee expectations, evolving structure of jobs and a growing emphasis on cost containment
Today, specific industries such as Information technology, Telecom and Healthcare, especially in sales oriented organizations have led the way with new emerging flexible workplace solutions. These solutions have arisen more out of necessity rather than setting a trend. As internal and external communication channels fragment and move away from traditional media such as phones and in person meetings, employees and management teams have become more open to experimenting with collaboration solutions that require a lower in person presence of teams. Another driver has been the emergence of chronic congestion in high density urban areas where suburban living has accelerated as younger families seek larger homes.
High performers and work@home strategies
A key driver for organizational strategies related to work@home strategies may be to look at the top 250 performers and top 20 projects and come to your own conclusions about who’s creating real value — and how — in your company. Business leaders need to knows who their best people are.
If significant portions of your organization’s top performers are “stay@home” telecommuters, then work@home strategies may be an area for additional investments. Leaders need to learn as much as possible about their organization’s best people, best performers and culture. Most successful leaders avoid getting in the way of their best people’s productivity. How can leaders encourage average performers to excel? One approach is to increase collaboration with the top 5% of onsite performers.
Business leaders need to believe that their “stay@home” telecommuting employee base would be significantly more valuable to the company — organizationally, operationally and culturally — if they came to work. A value equation that needs to determined is whether the real and opportunity costs of “work@home” strategies greatly exceed the technical and economic contributions of onsite employee collaboration. It is quite possible tha “working@home” strategies may not be appropriate for your organization, just as it seemed in the case for Yahoo where there was a perceived benefit for increasing onsite collaboration.
Invest more in what is successful
A key driver of the innovative companies is to invest more in what is successful and less in what’s not working. While it may be possible that telecommuters and virtual teams at some organizations are the most agile, innovative and productive performers, a delayering strategy to redesign the organization around a virtual networked enterprise model needs to be given careful thought to map out all possible outcomes.
Some business leaders are predisposed to consider physical (co)presence as essential to innovation success that require a high level of collaboration and exchange of information in smaller packets. One of the reasons companies like Google have invested so heavily in providing world-class dining and fun workplace experiences for its employees is to employees working together. These companies design their offices to encourage onsite collaboration. Business leaders need to understand how to set aside the noise around telecommuting and take an objective view of how a work@home strategy will impact productivity and performance. The question to ask is whether a work@home strategy a critical success factor for the organization?”
Build a culture of trust and collaboration
One of the strategies that has been effective in work@home deployments is to build a higher level of trust and collaboration into the work culture. An honest discussion about the expectation of work@home employees living up to their side of the productivity relationship is important. Measuring productivity can provide some valuable milestones to validate the strategy adopted by the organization.
Business leaders need to be focussed on how best to empower people and hold them accountable. This requires a strategy to promote the values of “collaborative opportunism” and “opportunistic collaboration” at the organization. Leveraging collaboration technologies can also help to empower high function and high impact collaboration. Our research indicates that productive and high impact employees can perform well if offered locational flexibility provided they buy into the culture of the organization, have a high trust level and are committed to collaborative work processes.
If you are interested in discussing a Change Management or Work@Home Strategy for your organization, please contact our managing partner, Merril Mascarenhas, by phone at +1 (416) 710-2727 or Email.
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