Thursday, January 17, 2008

Telecommuting - Bad for those who are left behind?

There's been a bit of reporting about a new study that suggests that those who don't telecommute are more dissatisfied than their colleagues who do.

Well, duh.

This is completely understandable, particularly if the telecommuting/remote work program is poorly set up and managed. I'd be bummed out, too, if "telecommuting" meant "the people who the boss likes get to 'work' from home, and they're impossible to get in touch with when they're 'working' from home, and they don't get anything done when they're 'working' from home, and it just makes more work for me". But it doesn't have to be that way. Just set up a real telecommuting program/policy and you can have some hope of avoiding resentment.

What are the components of a real telecommuting program? I'm glad you asked.

1. A well-thought out written policy that sets standards that all who wish to work from home must be able to meet -- employee in good standing, written proposal submitted and mutually agreed upon by manager and employee, communications expectations, no-fault out clause.

2. Technical support for remote workers in place, tested, and ready to roll -- phone forwarding, VPN and remote connection technology, enterprise IM, web cams that workers have or can check out.

3. Training for managers and employees on how to measure productivity against whatever standards exist at your organization and formal support for remote workers and managers.

Once you have all this set up, you must make it available to all employees, and encourage them to use it. If you're a manager, take the lead and go to your manager and negotiate one work at home day a week, and then be relentlessly in touch with your staff on your work at home day to show 'em how it's done. Make sure that it's not just mommies taking the telecommute option; seek out high performers of all types and encourage them to use the program. Make sure it isn't just the elite using the program; seek out admin staff with recurring duties that require long periods of concentration (entering loads of financial data from a paper report into a big spreadsheet, for example) and see if they would find it helpful to do that from another, less distracting location. Deal with problem telecommuters (e.g. those who 'work' from home) quickly and decisively to try and nip resentment in the bud.

I can't help but think that effective management of telecommuting could reduce some of the problems that the study found. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Validity of Conclusions in Research Findings Questioned by Telework Coalition

After reviewing the Study “Telecommuting May Harm Workers Left Behind in the Office” conducted by Timothy Golden, associate professor in the Lally School of Management & Technology at Rensselaer, we question the validity of his research and quite frankly are surprised that it was released. Drawing conclusions on a study based on “a couple hundred people from a single company”, may say more about that company’s policies and procedures, or lack thereof, than teleworking. How can anyone perform a study with his only source of data being one medium size company and imply that his conclusions are valid for any other organization?

In 2006 we, The Telework Coalition, conducted a Telework Benchmarking study of 13 large organizations with mature telework programs. In it we asked about the attitudes of those employees who did not telework. Both our study and two previously conducted studies by other organizations in which there were multiple participants showed that the non teleworking coworkers were both enthusiastically supportive and felt teleworking was good for the organization, or at the least, the situation was a non issue.

In Mr. Golden’s study none of the distributed work program’s many benefits are measured, compared, or contrasted with the grumblings from 'those left behind'. We have seen more employers concerned with transit strikes, the possibility of a bird flu pandemic, terrorism, recruiting and retention issues, rising gas prices, faltering transportation infrastructures, the environment, etc. than the negatives alluded to by Mr. Golden.

Were there no positives in this company’s telework program? Was there top-level support, written policies and procedures, and processes, selection criteria based on the employee and job, a communication plan (so everyone is the “loop”), training, and program evaluation (to identify/resolve any start up issues). Did this company follow these steps?

So many questions, and yet so few answers from Dr. Golden's research.

The Telework Coalition
Washington, DC

Stella Commute said...

Thanks for posting this, Telework Coalition. Your points are right-on, and I'm going to pull your response out into a separate post and point folks toward your site, which is, as always, a fantastic resource for the slipper-wearing worker!