Mother may I work from home?

Introduction 

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.

Benefits

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.

Challenges

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.

Mitigation strategies

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?

References

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.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Mother may I work from home?

  1. Hi Peter,
    Has your organization performed a survey to see how close they have come to their goal of being the best place to work? I know it is a very well respected organization from a client point of view. Do all employees have the option of working two or three days a week out of their home or only the networked employees? Having that kind of flexibility is a great benefit to the networked employees and to the employer. This level of flexibility, I agree, will reduce cost, save time and keep them happier. It also allows the employee have personal interaction with office staff so he or she will not be isolated. Internet in this case is such a great tool for providing this level of flexibility. How does the the flexibility of networked worker compare to the flexibility of online education? When it comes to the flexibility, I think online education sets the bar for convenience.
    Thank you, great post.
    Mo

    • Hi Mo,

      Thank you for reading my post. The company is in the survey pool for Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. Unfortunately, we have not made this list in years.

      Along similar lines, the company conducts a survey on an annual basis to measure employee satisfaction. However, our satisfaction has remained flat which is attributed to the economy’s damper on merit increases. Not all workers can work from home two to three days; however, the majority of employees have the option to work from home at least one day a week. I think the number will increase with time as the company figures out how to manage different jobs. My job lends well to working remotely because we are professional employees.

      I would agree, online education sets the bar because it is 24×7 access anytime anywhere. Conversely, my job requires me to commute to work at least two days a week, which is not convenient! Great questions! Regards, Peter

  2. Peter, an insightful post…interesting to get the perspective of a wired worker. Your company (along with many others) is attempting to define “the new normal”. This new normal requires self-sufficient workers and a degree of trust. I like your suggestions of an office at home (do that myself), clear expectations, and clear metrics. Mo’s question is a good one…has your company begun gathering data to see if this works for them?

    • Hi Dr. Watwood, I think my company wanted to get its feet wet. I see a day where it allows complete freedom to work from where you want in my role in the future. I just don’t know when. I setup my home office when I started this program to manage work and school! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and questions. Regards, Peter

  3. Very thorough review of the issue of working remotely. As I read about Yahoo’s issues in reducing remote working, I understood Mayer’s concerns. It is frustrating to be physically in the office and want to brainstorm with colleagues and have no one around. It seems to me leaders can create a compromise however, by requiring everyone to be at the worksite part of the time, and allowing some remote work part of the time.

    Regarding 24/7 connectivity, I know when I taught an online class a few years ago, I felt kind of obsessed with getting home to my computer and getting online to see if students had posted questions. I really wanted to be as responsive as possible. I actually think having a smartphone that I could have checked posts/emails would have been helpful to me.

  4. Hi Bonny, Working remotely changed my life! If I have carpet or a new appliance being delivered, I no longer take a vacation day! I love it! Given the benefit I get as an employee who can work from home, my issue with Yahoo’s CEO is that she is going against the tide and ironically works for a technology company. I find it hard to believe she eliminated remote working even for just a few days a week. What do you think? Peter

  5. Great analysis outlining the benefits and challenges of the telecommute program. I can surely relate to how telecommute is utilized as a “perk” for employees, as increases in wages are becoming more rare. Unfortunately, government sequestration has resulted in a number of layoffs and/or furloughs. Because of early retirements, our agency has escaped the negative impact generated from sequestration levels imposed on all. However, aside from the typical default step increase, I have been unable to offer additional steps as the increased salary cost for future fiscal years may negatively impact my organization should Congress continue to fund our agency below levels needed to maintain current operations at existing staffing levels. As an alternative, I have revised our performance management policy to coincide more with our telecommute program. In an effort to sustain high performance, we increased the number of telecommute days per month (i.e., ten days) for those rated as “high performers” and authorized at least four days per month for “average performers.” Staff were very pleased as “high performers” gained six more days, whereas “average performers” gained two. Through effective communication, it has been made clear that the number of telecommute days is tied to individual performance. Recognizing that annual increases are minimal, those below average workers are now paying more attention to established action plans, all to obtain the opportunity to telecommute in the future. As you mentioned in your summary, staff also recognize the personal cost savings resulting from this program (i.e., transportation costs).
    The internet has surely offered organizations a variety of options to appeal to employees to join their workforce, along with sustaining them. As employees gain more flexibility and autonomy to complete the work, it is my belief that there productivity levels increase. Albeit distractions do exist which can derail an employee’s productivity, this is when management must act immediately to help keep him/her on track. Ultimately, an employee’s success within the telecommute program is solely up to him/her.
    Great post!

    • Hi kjb22162,

      Thank you for your feedback! Reflecting on your response reminded me of the discussion under The Whitebored titled Technology: Killing Us Softly. The debate was about how leaders should handle underperformers. I supplied my company communicates that working remotely is a privilege, not a right, and can be taken away for underperfomers!

      However, I like your strategy of incenting employees with more days who are high performers. In this economy, employees could be motivated to perform. However, I do see a potential downside. Do you low performers show any envy for not getting as many remote working days?

      Also, did you see JvapBlog’s Bog title the Nexus? If not, you should check out the great program Georgetown was doing for furloughed government employees for next time. Some of your underperforming staff may want to partake 🙂

      Look forward to your thoughts!
      Regards, Peter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s