Friday, December 21, 2007

Another Take on the AT&T Telecommuting Business

From the Canadian paper the Globe and Mail, this article has some good perspective on the AT&T crackdown on telecommuting. I think it strikes the right balance between optimism and realism. Apparently HP is also scaling back telecommuting -- another tech giant with products that web workers use a lot. For goodness sake, what are they thinking? Of course, there are reasons these companies are cracking down. Unfortunately, they're not very good ones.

- Security: Nobody wants to be on the news when a telecommuter's laptop is stolen with everyone's name, SSN, and home address on it. But in a rigorous security environment, nobody should have sensitive data on a local drive anywhere in the organization, whether they are using that drive in a cube or on their patio. Poor security procedures are a problem no matter where your workers are.

- Accountability: If you can't see workers how do you know they're working? Well, kids, the corollary is true, too: just because you can see people doesn't mean they're working. There will always be people who abuse the privilege of working at home, in a cube, in an office, wherever. You'll always have to babysit some of your employees. As a manager you have to have real, measurable goals for every employee, and then measure their work against those goals -- I know it's a pain, but that's why you get paid the big bucks. If you can't tell what people are doing by what they produce, you need to look at your management practices. Reeling in hard-working telecommuters isn't going to help you be a better manager, and will only succeed in alienating your most self-disciplined and productive workers.

- Results: Telecommuting isn't saving us enough money, and our stock is in the toilet -- we must get all those people back in the office! Somehow if we make the workplace look like it did back when we were profitable it will be like it was then. So you revisit a classic logo, you start airing commercials that make people nostalgic for the big profitable you, and paint the offices the same color as in the 1990s. It's not going to work. The genie is out of the bottle and your workforce has changed, along with the rest of the world. Give it up and move on. You may have to actually innovate instead of rearranging the deck chairs on your personal Titanic, but like I said, that's why you get paid the big bucks.

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