Thoughts on telework

* Telework seems like a great idea, so why isn't everyone doing it?

In a recent column about managers' unwillingness to relocate for their employer (see editorial link below), I mentioned telework. If managers don't want to relocate, is telework an option? I asked for feedback and many people sent in some great thoughts on the concept.

Here are some of their experiences:

* Choose the right person. The concept of working from home is a privilege, not a right. Not everyone is cut out for it. Some people need more social interaction and feel isolated. Others can get caught up in the distractions of their home and become less productive. Many may not have the technology (namely broadband) necessary in their area to do their jobs. One reader's experience: "As a manager I have had only one employee who worked as a teleworker on my program. The only way she was able to convince her management to take this step was to turn in her resignation first. She had tried reasoning with them on several occasions, to no avail. So when circumstances forced her to quit, her management rethought their position on teleworking. Since she is a highly motivated individual who accomplished more in one day than many of her co-workers did in two days, it was rationalized that telecommuting would work in her case. The company then installed the equipment necessary to provide her with a fast and secure home connection to the company intranet, for the purposes of telecommuting. As with any new idea - a few bad apples can spoil it for everyone, so the company is smart in being selective in whom they select for this privilege, yet not embracing the new idea fast enough."

This reader makes an excellent point, you need to be selective. To avoid charges of favoritism by other employees, make sure you set up mutually agreed-upon, measurable goals for all teleworkers, up front. If someone fails to meet their goals, you then have clear-cut reasons for ending their work at home.

* Telework can aid retention. As with the earlier example, telework can help you keep your superstar performers - provided they continue to be superstars while working at home. One reader says her company is not embracing telework and is attempting to get its employees to relocate to a new state. Many employees want to stay where they are. The result? "Unfortunately, the company will be losing many valuable, trained, employees. What is the company doing about it? Like others, it is hiring from India and other countries," she says. "The majority of managers are not adverse to teleworking and we have had the technology for a few years now. But until it is embraced by more companies, including this one, the American worker will be a thing of the past."

* Lost productivity. "The times that we finally got our system to work with home systems we found the quality of work from home was less than what we got from the same person at the office," one reader said. "Also, the other workers started whining about how it wasn't fair for so-and-so to work from home when they could not because there was no hook-up.  Managers have found that the hours they paid for were more productive at the office so they need special circumstances to ask for a hook-up at home."

My thanks to everyone for their time and thoughts. SMB editor Toni Kistner, who covers telework extensively in her weekly column, "Telework Beat" (see editorial link below), recently wrote a column that offers advice on implementing a telework program. Check it out: http://www.nwfusion.com/net.worker/columnists/2003/0331kistner.html

Learn more about this topic

Telework Beat archive

Time for a change

Network World, 03/31/03

Relocating questions

Network World Management Strategies Newsletter, 03/11/03

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