Most everyone dreams of working in jamies from home. Most times management starts having nightmares when their employees request to telecommute.
Telecommuting may not be in reality a perfect dream but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a nightmare either, although what it turns out to be may require a new mindset on both sides.
From the employee’s side, true they may have the opportunity to work in jamies! They may also benefit from fuel / time saving from the traditional drive into work (could mean getting extra sleep too), having a more flexible work / home life schedule and being able to work without the typical workplace interruptions.
NOW, with those dreams described comes some harsh realities! Discipline and time management become very important! With freedom comes the opportunity to perform anywhere between a slacker to a workaholic. Studies have shown that many telecommuters have the tendency to actually put in more hours “on the job” than if they went to a workplace, ie: checking and answering e-mails after dinner. On the other side, home life may have many more interruptions, aka distractions of children and at-home spouses can be big ones. You see, in most cases you don’t really change the fact that you will be interrupted, you just change the type and this is what you will have to deal with. One must consider that it is easier for most people to tell a co-worker they have a hot project and can’t be disturbed than it is to explain the same thing to your sad-faced 5-year old.
Other possible negative risks may be employee support for hardware / software failures, health issues evolving from a more sedentary work style, poorer diet and/or improperly designed working environment and even loneliness of no longer being able to associate with colleagues around the coffee machine ect.
From the management view it can be a night-mare-ish break from the tradition of being able to see the worker at their desk and making the assumption that they are working “for the company”! Let’s face it, you can’t watch every employee every minute of the workday and even if you could, it would be counter-productive on their part! There must be a definite strong degree of trust, a well established documented work plan and list of expectations between the employer and the employee. This last point is actually true for whether the employee is working from home or at a common workplace. Having the proper communications tools and remote secure access for the employees can significantly minimized the chances of this being a negative risk.
Another management mindset that may be a break from tradition is expecting the employee to be “on-the-job” from “9 to 5” or whatever is considered normal working hours. Working during normal business hours at a workplace is efficient because it is designed for the purpose of working! It is not however efficient for many personal family / life issues that need to be address by the employee, therefore the employee needs to make arrangements (time off work) to address these. Many times these issues are located closer to the employee’s home than to their job meaning more travel time needs to be allocated. So since an employee is already rearranging their work load schedule to fit family / life issues does it really matter what time of day certain work gets done as long it is done within the expectations between the employer and employee? The key take-away here is a telecommuter may be able to manage their overall time better and still get their job done.
Management benefits to having trusted telecommuters could be happier employees that won’t be as demanding for pay raises as they are accepting the ability to telecommute as compensation, more and/or improved work output, possible elimination of real estate and the related expenses or the ability to increase your workforce without relocating to a larger building and possibly tax / investment advantages related directly to supporting (green) telecommuting.
In many cases telecommuting can be more beneficial than method it will be replacing.
BUT, for the employee, it may require setting up a ergonomically designed healthy private home office, installing the communications tools required to stay connected to the company and installing remote access hardware support software and/or contracting for maintenance / support program.
As for management, we can assist it changing the traditional mindset through training, workshops and establishing guidelines focusing on the required work output within a deadline rather than “precisely what times of day the work gets done and/or from what location”. Of course this may not always be possible such as help desk support but you can still explore other or limited opportunities. Related “green” tax and investment opportunities can also be researched.
In summary, the basic key components to creating a successful telecommuting workforce include:
Trust / self discipline
Secure, reliable web / network infrastructure,
Real-time conferencing / collaboration tools,
Shared resources (calendars, databases, virtual workspaces. . .),
S/W tools, hardware / software support,
Ergonomic / healthy home "private" office environment,
On-line resources / training.
Since November 2008 I have been a full time teleworker and the previous 10+ years I did teleworking on a part-time "as needed" basis.