Bringing technology home

Telecommuting is not passé; it’s not boring; it’s not yesterday’s news. Telecommuting is delivering increasing benefits for employees, employers and our society. Various problems and solutions are converging in ways that suggest the biggest benefits of telecommuting remain to be achieved.

If your organization does not yet actively encourage telecommuting, here’s a primer and a call to action. Here’s a chance for the CIO to show leadership where the entire organization will see value.

Where’s the beef?

For employers, the number one tangible benefit is reduced occupancy costs for office space. In many telecommuting implementations, employees share cubicles or are assigned cubicles just for the day when they work in the office. Other important benefits are improved productivity and reduced turn-over costs.

For employees, the primary benefits are reduced commute time and more flexibility around when and where work is conducted. These benefits lead to better work life balance that improves employee morale which in turn reduces turn-over.

For society, the primary benefit is reduced traffic congestion. This benefit is huge given the high capital and operating costs of roads and public transportation. Lower air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will also become significant as telecommuting participation rates go up.

How do we grab the beef?

Organizations that have implemented telecommuting have recognized a few keys to success.

The way work is conducted must change. Successful telecommuting requires that employee assignments are made more explicit and followed-up more regularly. Often business processes must be adjusted. Supervisors need to make a conscious effort to interact with remote staff to counteract the sense of isolation that can accompany telecommuting.

It’s not about technology. Telecommuting does rely heavily on technologies such as remote access servers, laptops, follow-me telephony and teleconferencing. However, in the absence of supporting policies and processes, the technology languishes and the benefits are not achieved.

Telecommuting requires an appropriate set of supporting HR policies. These policies should describe the employee’s entitlement to technology, furniture and support, the performance management process, rules governing core work hours and legalisms related to WCB and liability.

Why talk about this now?

Various business pressures and technology enablers are converging to improve the cost-benefit case for telecommuting.

The increasing cost of office space and commuting are increasing the value proposition for telecommuting.

The ubiquitous high-speed Internet and the presence of computers in every home make remote access to applications and databases feasible and cost-effective in a secure manner.

The looming retirement of the baby boomer generation will radically change the employer-employee relationship. The next generation is less work focused and more work life balance focused. It’s also more technology comfortable.

What are the impediments?

All of these wonderful benefits are not free or problem-free. Here are some common issues that every organization will need to address.

A few employees will abuse the privilege of working when and where they want to work by goofing off too much. Reasonable supervision will solve this problem.

A few will overdo telecommuting and will feel disconnected from the organization as a result. Face-to-face team status meetings and regular in-person events with supervisors and department staff will counteract this problem.

Conclusions

Telecommuting can deliver much more value. Tired commuters will deliver better productivity through telecommuting. Cost-effective information technology is making telecommuting more affordable.

The Web offers many resources to help you define and implement a telecommuting program. A good place to start is at www.ivc.ca.

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