More on Telecommuting

Anne Bovard, Comtech Services, Inc.

 

I’ve enjoyed the recent CIDM attention to telecommuting. Beginning with Bill Hackos’ blog entry and followed up by Bill Gearhart’s eNewsletter article, I think it is safe to say that the ‘green argument’ for telecommuting is bullet-proof. In this increasingly environmentally-charged age of awareness, arguing against a way to reduce our carbon footprints would surely be met with jaw-dropping shock. So why then, given the facts of green telecommuting benefits, are we so slow to implement it?

I understand that most organizations that do not have a current telecommuting protocol in place would be uneasy with the perceived management aspects. I propose that the biggest concern is a lack of the assurance that the remote worker is actually working and not watching television or doing their laundry on the corporation’s dime.

We can base the following discussion on two questions:

  • Can the manager and employee trust one another?
  • Can the manager and employee measure the employees’ quantity and quality of work?

Trust between the manager and employee in a telecommuting scenario is absolutely crucial. The manager must believe in the employee’s corporate loyalty and have faith that the employee is generally working toward the greater good of the company. The employee must trust that their manager is aware of the inflated need for communication and support. When the face-to-face element of daily interactions is removed, all parties must work harder at communicating.

There seems to be an automatic feeling of security in seeing employees at their desks. If they braved the morning commute and are in the office, surely they’re being productive, right? I’m not so sure. I don’t mean to devalue employee attendance, but alone, it is inefficient as a means to measure employee productivity. With a good results-based algorithm for assessing employee performance, all parties will benefit. We all love good metrics, don’t we?

In reading up on this subject, I came across an interesting paper that described suggestions compiled from a series of remote worker focus groups (Staples, 2001)1. The 19 groups were composed of 104 members—both remote employees and remote managers. The focus groups developed a list of suggestions for assessing employee performance:

  • setting project milestones
  • having periodic reviews
  • establishing check-in periods
  • making sure communications are clear and understood
  • establishing a regular communications pattern, (i.e., chat at noon every two days)
  • agreeing on performance indicators and how to measure them
  • getting regular feedback from peers

I find it interesting that all items on the list can easily translate to managing in an onsite environment as well. All of the suggestions appear to be best practices for working towards a results-based analysis of performance.

I worked as a telecommuter for nearly a year prior to working with Comtech and loved it. For me, and perhaps for the job I was doing, it was a wonderful environment. All in all, it was a successful enterprise. I felt that I was more efficient in my home environment, if only for the lack of office interruptions. I also loved the freedom to sit outside with WIFI on a nice sunny day.

The benefits of a comfortable work environment cannot be overstated. I have no doubt that I was more productive and much happier working in my home office. And I did not miss my commute in the least. In his 1998 guide to telecommuting2, George Piskurich estimates that a worker with a 10 minute commute will spend 80 hours (2 full work weeks) every year driving to and from work. Doesn’t that make you want your time back?

If you’re interested in learning more about telecommuting, there are plenty of resources. The case studies are out there too. There are plenty of organizations working in or toward this environment. Our own organization is currently working to implement a telecommuting option for its managers and employees. You’re sure to hear more about it in the coming months. In the meantime, we welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and experiences.

1 “Making Remote Workers More Effective”, Staples, D. Sandy, Telecommuting and Virtual Offices, Idea Group Publishing, Hershey, 2001.

2 Piskurich, George M., An Organizational Guide to Telecommuting, ASTD, Alexandria, 1998.

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