June 2001

Telecommuting Survey

CIDMIconNewsletter Tina Hedlund, Senior Consultant, Comtech Services, Inc.

Telecommuting is a hot issue today and getting hotter. Many companies are instituting telecommuting (or teleworking) programs and making each department responsible for defining the rules and criteria by which its employees can work from home. Managers who are used to seeing how busy employees are and assigning work based on these visual cues, need to define new management techniques for employees they can no longer see. The results of this survey point out areas of concern and issues that need to be addressed if telecommuting is to be a successful part of an information-development organization.

Telecommuting Policies

How telecommuting policies are determined is almost evenly split between corporate policy and departmental policy, with slightly more handling telecommuting policies within their departments (60 percent). Many times, a corporate policy allows telecommuting, but the individual departments determine the details.


Many of the managers who responded to the survey allowed employees to telecommute on a scheduled but not on a full-time basis, and they allowed only their most successful employees to telecommute. As one participant commented, “Our telecommuting policy is actually pretty restrictive-only those people who’ve proven they are very productive in the office are allowed to telecommute regularly.” By allowing only those who self-manage well to telecommute, managers have found a way to offer telecommuting without the burden of developing new management techniques for off-site employees.

Management difficulties don’t occur until managers are forced to hire employees as telecommuters without the opportunity to assess their working habits. This tends to happen in geographical areas where hiring is the most difficult, for example, the Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area. To fill open requisitions, managers feel they must allow telecommuting no matter how inefficient or ill suited an employee may be to telecommuting. It is an expected perk, and to not offer it would affect hiring and retention.

Many departments are also allowing telecommuting so their employees can avoid long commutes to work. According to the telecommuters, the majority telecommute (65 percent) because there are fewer distractions at home. Surprisingly, 16 percent telecommute to stay home with children.


Restrictions to Telecommuting

Many of the managers are not restricting access to telecommuting by job function. If they are, the job functions that are not allowed to telecommute are support and clerical staff. Surprisingly, one respondent said they even have an intern who telecommutes. It is important to keep in mind that many of the participants in this survey allowed telecommuting only on a part-time basis and placed any restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Because many telecommuters are left to self-manage and rarely receive training to help them successfully telecommute (87 percent of telecommuters reported receiving no training), only the most successful employees are allowed to telecommute. As the pressure to offer telecommuting as a perk to new hires increases, it is doubtful that a process like this will continue to work, and managers will need to address ways to identify successful telecommuters or institute management processes that make it possible for more employees to successfully telecommute.

Development Process and Evaluation

Telecommuters are usually (in 71 percent of the cases) required to work core hours, and many managers mentioned that they used employees’ response time as an indicator of their success. If employees respond quickly to email or phone calls, they are perceived as being effective. In one manager’s company, telecommuters are required to wear pagers and respond to pages within half an hour.

Most managers report communicating with telecommuters via

  • Email on a daily basis
  • One-on-one phone calls weekly
  • Team phone meetings weekly
  • Staff phone meetings weekly to monthly
  • In person weekly

This is similar to the amount of time telecommuters report spending with management. Telecommuters report communicating most often with their project team via

  • Email on a daily basis
  • One-on-one phone calls weekly
  • Team phone meetings weekly
  • Staff phone meetings weekly
  • In person weekly

For telecommuting to work, a lot of communication must occur between management, project teams, and the telecommuter.

Although 44 percent of managers felt that their telecommuting program was very successful (5 on a scale of 1 to 5), many had not developed special criteria for evaluating its success. Many managers used the same criteria for evaluating telecommuters as they used for those who did not telecommute. Most often, managers looked at productivity, quality, and whether information was delivered on time. If those expectations were not met, managers reported most often that their response would be to limit or revoke the telecommuting option.


Those who telecommute also felt that telecommuting was very successful in their departments, and 54 percent rated their success 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. Many felt they were an integral part of the information-development team and their organizations had found ways to keep them informed of corporate and departmental activities. Many are able to find information on an intranet or receive email updates from the company and their department.

Unresolved Issues

Many of the unresolved issues identified in this survey relate to technology. Many are concerned about getting proper Internet access and hardware and software to telecommute so that efficiency is not affected. Another significant issue that will increase in importance as telecommuting becomes more prevalent is the difference between on-site and off-site management. Although the current way of managing telecommuting is by allowing only those who self-manage well to telecommute, it may become a hiring requirement as it has for many areas of the country. If this is the case, new techniques must be developed to manage the productivity of all, including those who do not self-manage well.

Additionally, managers and telecommuters will need to realize that there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction and frequent communication. Many telecommuters feel that they do not fit into the company culture and are victims in some cases of sabotage. Managers feel a sense of distrust for employees they may not know or have no experience working with. Increased communication and on-site time will be necessary to allay fears for both managers and telecommuters.