Remote work is just business as usual

Once and for all, ITAC proves its irrelevancy.

Companies appear to be handing SARS just fine, to the likely dismay of consultants looking to capitalize on the "crisis." Good for them. As we saw after Sept. 11, employers are using telework as part of an overall business continuity strategy, but telework is no longer a black art.

Editor's Note: This is a corrected version of the column that ran May 6.

Two reports crossed my desk last week — one on SARS, one on telework.

In response to Toronto’s outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Mercer Human Resource Consulting polled Canadian employers to find out how they’re managing SARS-related absences. Conducted on Mercer’s Web site, the survey received 354 responses in two days earlier this month.

It turns out, only 11% of respondents have an HR policy that addresses health-related emergencies. Sixty-nine percent said they don’t have a policy; 19% said they are considering one. While that 11% statistic is the headline grabber, the fact that less than 20% are “considering” a health-related emergency policy at a time when the World Health Organization has advised the public to suspend travel to and from Toronto is pretty telling, too. (Since, the WHO has lifted the ban.)

Moreover, 90% of respondents said they would pay for SARS quarantine-related absences. (The quarantine lasts 10 days). Three percent said they would not pay; 7% said they don’t know. For proof of absence, 30% said they would use the honor system. Nearly half said they would require a medical certificate, which employees need to get from a SARS clinic.

As we noted with Intel in an earlier column on SARS , companies appear to be handing SARS just fine, to the likely dismay of consultants looking to capitalize on the “crisis.” Good for them. As we saw after Sept. 11, employers are using telework as part of an overall business continuity strategy, but telework is no longer a black art. Note how Mercer didn’t even ask about it.

Employers aren’t asking, either. Bob Fortier, president of the Canadian Telework Association, says: “Oddly, and quite curiously, there has been little in the way of inquiries from companies or even the media [about SARS and telework.] I do know the amount of telework has just shot up. My suspicion is that for now, they’re either focusing on more important things or suffering from shell shock.”

While the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC) says it hasn’t received any queries, Noel Hodson, an ITAC director and UK consultant, is helping HR strategists in the WHO develop a formal telework policy and internal guidelines. Hodson says his firm will help the WHO roll out telework in its own organization, and in turn the WHO will serve as an example during the SARS "crisis."

Speaking of ITAC, the organization last week released the findings of its annual Telework America report. As ITAC struggles to stay relevant in a time when everyone just works wherever, the group has squabbled over mission and restructured its membership and annual fees. ITAC has done away with individual teleworker memberships, which used to cost about $40. Instead, a sole proprietor can join for $250, the lowest price tier, and companies and government offices can join for $500. Technology vendors and telework consultancies must pay based on revenue.

Until now, you could argue ITAC’s annual Telework America Survey — sponsored by AT&T and well respected in bygone days — kept the group relevant. This year’s report (Telework America Survey 2002: "Teleworking Comes of Age with Broadband" ) proves otherwise.

The survey sets out to analyze the relationship between broadband and telework, and for the most part compares the work behavior of employees using dial-up with those using broadband. “Key findings” include: Broadband improves virtual work; increases employee telework participation; promotes home-office technology; and reduces employer costs.  If you still want to read it, an executive summary is available. For $495, ITAC will provide the full report here.

A much better read (if the evolution of the telework industry interests you at all anymore), is a recent essay by well-respected telework consultant and author Gil Gordon called "From 'Oh?' to 'Oh!' to 'Oh...': The Emergence, Evolution And Impending Disappearance Of Telecommuting/Telework". The title speaks for itself and is available here.

Learn more about this topic

SARS virus spotlights telework

Can your firm function when employees can’t get to the office?

Network World, 04/14/03

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in