Does Telecommuting Hurt Productivity?
Author:CSC Town Hall
Some companies have made news recently by forbidding telecommuting in their organizations. But is that the wisest approach? In this Town Hall, we look closely at the reasons behind the decisions, the pros and cons of telecommuting, and the technologies available today to ensure employees remain productive even when working from home.
Watch the highlights in this 5-minute version
- Nabil Fanaian, Mobility Practice Director, CSC
- Rick Nuñez, Global Portfolio Executive for Mobility, CSC
- Siva Prakash Yarlagadda, Director, Federal Mobility, CSC
- Jeff Caruso, Senior Managing Editor, CSC
Does Telecommuting Hurt Productivity?
Technology enables remote work in some interesting ways, but the fear lingers that teleworkers may not be as productive. The issue recently resurfaced when Yahoo decided to end telecommuting for its employees and Best Buy concluded its own flexible work program a few weeks later.
A recent CSC Town Hall meeting discussed the pros and cons of telework, as well as the best practices companies can follow to ensure the success of their own telecommuting policies and programs.
Jeff Caruso, senior managing editor for CSC, led the discussion with survey results on attitudes about telecommuting following the Yahoo announcement. A poll of 128 HR executives by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas reported 80% of responding companies offering remote work programs, and of those, only 3% indicated any plans to reconsider their telecommuting options.
With such strong support for telework options, panelists considered what could lead some companies to mandate a "no telework" policy.
Rick Nuñez, mobility manager for CSC's managed services group, pointed out there are some advantages to working in an office setting. "In the office, you have real-time access to subject matter experts and management. If I need access to someone working on a project and need an answer today, it can improve some of the decision making," Nuñez said.
Prakash Yarlagadda, director of federal mobility for CSC, said there is value in the "water cooler" conversations that can spark a new idea. "If you're working in an enterprise, you need to build relationships with people to move things forward. That's something you get when you work on site."
Still, the trend toward more remote work options seems preordained. Nabil Fanaian, global solutions director for CSC's mobility and social applications group, said companies must take a pragmatic approach. "A company geared toward services and a largely mobile workforce would be a natural fit for telecommuting. They need to establish an enterprise-wide policy, then leave discretion of its implementation to local managers."
Nuñez believes remote work is becoming an expected norm for new college graduates. "Kids coming out of college today have an expectation that they can do anything they need to do, from anywhere, from any device. I do think there's a convergence of behavior and technology, the concept of omnipresence. That can make it easier to manage teleworkers."
Yarlagadda said remote work policies support a different work lifestyle that benefits global companies. "Many of us work in little snippets of time, checking e-mail when we have a few minutes or sending an instant message. Global companies need that kind of flexibility for workers stretched across many time zones, to collaborate and share knowledge. Productive employees are productive whether they work at home, the office or a cafe."
Arguments for telework often hinge on cost savings which Fanaian said can be made for and against. "If you look at the operation costs, I think most will agree there are significant savings. Most companies are adopting 'hoteling'. Some costs are transferred to employees like space, fixtures and equipment. There are savings in mileage logged and an improved work-life balance. Some will argue, however, the opportunity costs are higher if employees are not in the office," he said.
"Statistics show that up to 30% of office space is not used, which is driving companies to the hoteling concept of shared spaces," Yarlagadda says. "The key, though, is realizing you need the back end systems in your enterprise to support that." And, from a strategic perspective, telework policies can also fulfill continuity-of-operation plans. "Allowing your applications and data to move to the edge, securing them, and giving people a way to get to those is a big part of any continuity plan," he says.
Measuring worker productivity in telework situations isn't clear-cut. Numerical measures such as VPN usage don't capture all the ways a teleworker can be productive, Nuñez says. "I don't need to be connected to get work done. And what's an employee's level of productivity using videoconferencing three hours a day versus spending that time driving to and from the office?" he says.
Fanaian said an effective telework program requires planning to ensure success. "It all starts with a mobile device. You give employees the basic tools - voice, messaging and e-mail. That's where most companies start their journey. Baby steps. That helps the company begin to discover what's necessary to support mobile workers, working through issues like access to corporate e-mail outside the firewall. Once that works, then determine what additional tools or service you need to add to take the next step."
Workers need the proper environment at home to be successful Yarlagadda said. "You need a quiet room, a designated workspace. A comfortable chair and desk and a good broadband connection. A headset if you'll be on a lot of calls. And make sure you let your co-workers know when you're online. You need to bring your body and your mind to work to get things done."
Developing expectations, setting a formal policy, and providing the tools, infrastructure and training are all essential steps to a successful telework plan. But does being out of sight hamper an individual's career path? Nuñez doesn't think so.
"It's a valid concern, and not just for the employee but for the employer as well, so telecommuting has to be seen as a privilege. At CSC, we have 90,000 employees and I'll work with people I'll never meet face to face. It has never hindered our work on a project and it's never been an obstacle for me," Nuñez said. "I'm so accustomed to a flexible work schedule, if I were required to come to the office every day, I wouldn't know what to do."