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Want to telework? Not so fast, IT

Full-time telecommuting still elusive for many in IT

By Sandra Gittlen, Network World
September 24, 2012 06:06 AM ET

Network World - Most IT professionals spend their days figuring out how to support a workforce that can operate wholly off-site, so employees can stay productive when they're working from home or on the road. Ironically, that "perk" remains elusive for IT, which oftentimes seems tethered to the corporate office.

Diversified Agency Services, for instance, offers its IT team flexibility when working nights and weekends, but prefers them to otherwise be on-site, according to Jerry Kelly, North America CIO at the marketing services organization, which is a division of OmniCom Group. More than that, IT workers are expected to live within close enough proximity to the office to be able to get there quickly.

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The distinction between being able to work from anywhere vs. occasionally telecommuting is important to job candidates who face long commutes and have to balance personal and family commitments.

A survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals in Florida conducted by talent search firm ProTech found that 28% of respondents listed flex time and the ability to telecommute as the best perk they had been offered by a past or present employer. It ranked well ahead of sign-on, retention and annual bonuses (17%); additional vacation time (8%); and education reimbursement and training (7%). (See also: What would you give up to telecommute? A raise? Vacation time? Spouse?

Matthew Ripaldi, senior vice president of global IT recruitment and staffing firm Modis, has observed a marked increase in job candidates looking to telecommute. "People would give up part of their salary for a flexible environment and some even prefer [the opportunity to telecommute] over health insurance," he says.

Employees who can save two or more hours by not fighting traffic enjoy not only the cost savings associated with gas and vehicle wear and tear, but also a better quality of life. They have less stress and increased productivity, Ripaldi notes.

Enabling IT to telecommute also can align with organizations' efforts to provide always-available tech support. "For most organizations, the typical IT workweek is outdated and employees log in from home nights and weekends. It's now a foregone conclusion that the technology is there to support that," Ripaldi says. Yet, surprisingly, he finds, most companies still consider telecommuting to be an earned benefit that requires trust to be built between the manager and the employee.

Not a tech problem

What's interesting to many industry observers is that often the choice to have IT come into the office has little to do with remote capabilities and more to do with culture.

At Philips Electronics, a manufacturer of healthcare equipment, IT workday flexibility has been around for almost a decade. Maridan Harris, vice president of IT, credits the deployment of remote monitoring, management and troubleshooting tools to support field service technicians. "We didn't want to force service people to come into an office when their PCs broke so we implemented software necessary to help them," Harris says.

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