Seventhman Blog

The Telecommuting Case: Innovator or Disruptor?

"telecommuting"Just when the flames of Yahoo’s telecommuting memo is slowly dying, we hear Best Buy adding more fuel to the fire.  I can’t resist not to jump in and make a case for telecommuting.  Last week, I wrote about Employee Appreciation Day and how flexible time can become the highest motivator for your people to do their jobs well.  Guess what?  A case against working from home is posted on the Web, saying that such activity is not only counter-productive, but a creativity killer as well.  While I’m not against research, they have forgotten to mention that collaboration technology is improving and more employers are saving valuable money that would have been spent on travel and office space.  Do they have the most current study on work patterns?  If innovation is said to happen in those unexpected moments when you bump into someone from another department, then.. there’s simply no need to plan team huddles to brainstorm an idea as it can happen in a snap, right?

It’s Not the Distance

For over two decades of having worked with remote teams across the globe, I would say that it’s not an issue of where you work — but how you manage your team to produce the best results.  By management, I’m not talking about micromanaging or this destructive habit of trying to make marionettes out of your team.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with remote work and it can even help you attract top talents to your brand.  But at some point, telecommuting has to be managed because the potential for abuse is still there.  Honestly, if someone’s consistently producing great work – I don’t really care much if s/he’s working from Jupiter or Mars.  If they can’t do their job well from a distance, what makes you think they will do better when they’re only six feet away?  But, each time I hear someone saying that s/he has the right to telecommute, the problem is always about how things are being managed from within; not telecommuting.

Remote Work: It’s Not Picture-Perfect

Like working in the office, telecommuting has its share of benefits and drawbacks.  One thing’s for sure though – employees are happier when they are given a chance to be home-based.  This is why they were aghast when Yahoo’s Chief announced that telecommuters report back to the office by June.  Those who are running a work-at-home program can do well if expectations are clear from the very start – from defining the job scope to deadlines.  There is a major difference between working from home occasionally and doing it all-year round though.  Managers may just not be readily available when you need instant help.  Then, there are also issues on data security, poor performance evaluations and lesser promotions for people who work from home.  If you ask why people still clock in from 9-5, they might tell you it’s all about that good ol’ feeling of how your colleagues think highly of you even if they don’t know what exactly it is that you do.

The Reality of Working from Home

Did you know that majority of corporate America spends telecommuting hours – only after they have worked in the office?  That’s time spent on checking emails and writing reports after office hours.  The truth is that managers are still glued to doing the old way of things, that your commitment and productivity is measured with the time you spent in the office.  This is why they want to see you and are leery of those who are out of sight.  Also, they are having difficulty measuring how well you have worked if you do it out of the office.  While there are tasks that will benefit more from face time, the future of work tends to shift from this as people are finding balance between regular communication and working as one.  Digital tools have yet to solve the issue on how to get things done when work becomes more complex.

There’s no doubt that we will see better technology to make telecommuting seamless.  The question is not much about which platform to use – It’s more on how the company culture support autonomy.

Do you think that telecommuting is the future of work?  I leave you with that question.