The author of this blog analyzes telecommuting, enabled by widely available internet access, based on his experience with his organization of employment. Robbins & Judge (2012) provide telecommuting is working from home at least two days a week on a computer linked to the employer’s office; Friedman’s (2007) flat world of the internet, email, laptops, and smartphones permitted telecommuting. Traditionally, his company’s policy required all employees physically report to a building for work. However, his company has a continuous organizational goal to be a best place to work. To meet this goal, his firm adopted a new policy in 2011 to allow employees to work remotely two or three days a week. Next, the author examines the benefits, challenges, and mitigation strategies for working remotely under the lens of employees and organizations.
Remote working yields both employee and organizational benefits. For employees, it affords flexibility, reduces costs, and saves time. Telecommuting employees enjoy flexibility to do their job from anywhere virtually anytime. To illustrate, the author travels several days a week for his job and working remotely allows him to stay connected on the road with what is transpiring with his clients. By connecting his laptop to hotel Wifi, accessing a virtual private network at home, or using his blackberry, he can work when and where he chooses. Madden & Jones (2008) provide 80% of wired and ready workers say technology tools allowed them flexibility in the hours they worked. For example, if the author has a flight to catch at eleven in the morning for a business trip, he does not waste time traveling to the office. Rather, he works from home in the morning by connecting to work through a virtual private network on the internet and subsequently goes directly to the airport. Moreover, his job affords flexibility to attend functions such as watching a daughter’s school play in the morning or coaching a son’s baseball game in the afternoon without missing a beat at work. Finally, working remotely reduces employee transportation costs and saves employee commute time. Bednarz (2013) provides if telework employees worked remotely half the time, employees gain two to three weeks of free time per year and save between $2,000 and $7,000 dollars in annual transportation costs.
Organizations also realize benefits such as improved employee happiness and job satisfaction, reduced costs, and better talent management from telecommuting. To illustrate, his organization’s goal for working remotely is making employees happy and thereby improving job satisfaction; Bednarz (2013) explains teleworkers are happier, productivity rises, and people achieve better work life balance. Another benefit is working remotely allows the author’s company to save money. With the state of the economy, his company uses telecommuting as a perk to motivate employees because it has not been in a position to give employees substantial raises. Furthermore, his company saves because it reduced the size of cubicles to incent employees to work remotely. Along the same lines, Bednarz (2013) provides if telework employees worked remotely half the time, companies could save more than $500 billion a year in real estate, electricity absenteeism, turnover, and productivity costs. A final benefit to the organization is retaining and attracting talent, which is the lifeblood of any organization. By allowing workers to work remotely, his organization is consistent with competitors for whom potential candidates may consider. In essence, telecommuting provides a job attributes today’s professional workers covet. However, telecommuting is not perfect and presents both employee and organizational challenges, which the author reviews next.
Turning to challenges, telecommuting employees often experience isolation, over connectivity, and communication gaps. To illustrate, when the author works from home, he often feels isolated from his boss and peers; he misses the interactions the office facilitates. At the same time, the author ironically feels constantly connected to the office. Whether working from home or using his blackberry when outside his home or the office, the author constantly checks his work email all day, every day! Therefore, the lines between work and his personal life start to blend. Likewise, Madden & Jones (2008) provide 49% of wired and ready workers say technology makes it harder for them to disconnect from their work when they are at home or on weekends. Finally, the author finds some communication challenges using technology. In particular, challenging conversations such as communicating bad news often lose something when done via email, instant messenger, or skype. Madden & Jones (2008) explain employed email users express preferences for in-person communication when it comes to questions about work, dealing with sensitive issues, or bringing up problems to a supervisor. Similarly, the author provides developmental feedback face to face to his team because it often goes better based on his experience. That way, he adds a human element to the process.
Remote worker organizations also experience challenges such as productivity, accountability, and information sharing. Employees are often distracted which decreases the organization’s productivity when working from home compared to the office. For example, the author typically has the television on in the background when he is working from home. Bednarz (2013) provides teleworkers top distractions are household chores, television, pets, errands, the internet, and children. Adding fuel to the fire, employers are often challenged in how to hold employees accountable in a remote environment. When employees slack in a virtual environment, how does the organization know about it to enforce corrective action? Likewise, Bednarz (2013) states some workplace metrics are impossible to measure. Finally, organizations that promote telecommuting often miss information sharing via informal discussions around the office water cooler. The author’s experience is that these types of conversations are usually critical information shared through the grapevine. Ostensibly, telecommute organizations should concern themselves with this information gap.
To reiterate, telecommuting benefits employees and organizations; however, it also presents challenges for both. To that end, the author develops strategies to mitigate the challenges.
Below are strategies for employees:
- To avoid distractions, create an in-home office.
- Plan a schedule that balances working at the office and remotely.
- Use good judgment when deciding between going to the office versus working from home.
- Limit use of technology and email during evenings, vacations, weekends, and holidays.
Below are strategies for leaders:
- Assess if the position is compatible with remote working.
- Communicate expectations for productivity to remote worker employees.
- Set clear and transparent metrics for performance.
- Encourage employees to come to the office for critical conversations, such as major issues at work, meetings with bosses, or staff meetings to share information.
Jarche’s leadership implications
Jarche (2013) provides how organizations are shifting from hierarchical to networks. In particular, Jarche (2013) states networks are the new companies whereby networked workers do not need bosses because work is transparent. Rather, managers create bottlenecks (Jarche, 2013). Jarche’s (2013) view resonated with the author of this blog because the expertise to solve his client problems lies with his virtual teams. For example, if a client enrolls people into a company sponsored 401(k) plan that are not employees, he does not seek guidance from his boss. Rather, he sets up a virtual meeting with his team of experts to brainstorm solutions. A compliance consultant is part of the team and crucial to the vetting process. The author of this blog has been doing his job for 8 years. Therefore, he does not require his boss’s help the vast majority of the time. However, a limitation of Jarche’s (2013) view of bosses is new employees who look above for guidance and support. What do you think?
Looking into the future, workers may hold several jobs with different employers at the same time. Both Jarche’s (2013) networks and working remotely marry well with this type of environment. Does your organization practice working remotely? If so, what are the pros, cons, and mitigation strategies you see? If not, do you think your organization should adopt working remotely?
Bednarz, A. (2013). Is Yahoo’s telework ban shortsighted or savvy? Data says both. Retrieved from http://www.networkworld.com/news/2013/022813-yahoo-telework-267219.html
Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Picador.
Jarche, H. (2013, November 5). [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.jarche.com/2013/11/networks-are-the-new-companies/
Madden, M., & Jones, S. (2008). Networked workers. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Workers.aspx
Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2012). Essentials of organizational behavior (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.