Technology facilitates the virtual office -- but is that all there is to it?
The biggest teleworking story recently was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to cut back telecommuting, a decision some maintain was driven by data that showed that home-based employee productivity wasnít at levels where it should have been. Bank of America soon voiced a similar opinion, and is now wondering which jobs should be a telecommuting ones. (See: Yahoo's Telework Decision Could Be Marissa Mayer's Waterloo.)
This flies in the face of other companies that are experiencing extraordinary results with telecommuting -- like many Silicon Valley tech employers, who battle daily for highly-skilled knowledge workers at a time when 49 percent of US companies canít find the talent they need to run their businesses. With competition this fierce, telecommuting is an enormous advantage.
That's because 80 percent of employees (and employment prospects) regard telecommuting as an important job perk, and over one-third of technology workers responding to a Telework Research Network survey said they would consider a pay cut if they could telecommute.
Telecommuting works for more than high-tech companies, too.
In the health insurance field, about 47 percent of Aetna's workforce telecommutes. As a result, the company saves $78 million in facility costs each year. Its turnover rate for telecommuting employees is just 3 percent compared to 8 percent for employees who must come to the office.
Aetna and other companies that successfully use telecommuting are also finding that remote employees work longer hours. I personally experienced this several months ago, when I needed to email a work colleague whom I knew was also the mother of three young children. This person was on the east coast, so I figured that if I emailed her late (her time) on a Sunday evening, she would find my message in her Inbox first thing on Monday morning. Was I wrong! There on Sunday night, her email response flew back to me -- before I could reach for my cup of tea. She was working.
It made me think of how far we have come since telecommuting first began to embed itself into our work lives -- a journey that began in earnest for me in 2001, when I was tasked to implement telecommuting at a bank.
What we learned then, and what I believe BofA and Yahoo are learning, is that telecommuting doesnít work for every job. Positions that are highly strategic, collaborative, and people-facing often donít blend well with telecommuting -- but jobs like call center agents, sales representatives, computer programming, engineering, claims processing, writing/editing, and even consulting can work extraordinarily well.
We also learned that it was important to help employees set up their home office environments for maximum productivity, and we actually went to homes to help them do this.
The other human element that we focused on for home workers was a means of combating isolation. At the bank, we arranged ďface timeĒ in the form of once-a-week onsite meetings that would allow fellow employees to connect and engage with each other. Employees gave us positive feedback on the approach.
Finally, we implemented metrics and expectations for every telecommuting job. If the position involved processing loan applications, we established metrics based on performance metrics already in place at the office for both volumes of applications processed, and quality of processing (i.e., we set targets for zero defects and minimal rework). Telecommuters knew what the metrics were, and were expected to meet or exceed them -- and they were regularly measured on these metrics.
What we did is no exception today. Most companies and teleworkers continue to hone best-practices and measure results. In the midst of this, there is also healthy questioning about telecommuting and where it's best applied. All ultimately contribute to an expanding body of telework knowledge that benefits business.
— Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data