Time to Revisit Telework

By Sarah Sorensen
December 16, 2010

The Telework Act was signed last week by President Obama, giving 1.2 million federal workers the option to work from home at least for part of the work week. This could mark a tipping point for telecommuting, finally giving the public sector the push it needs to truly adopt a more flexible teleworking environment.

We probably all know the benefits of telework, which range from operational to environmental:

Operational Savings - Smart2020 estimated businesses could save between $15 billion to $30 billion through 2020 with telework initiatives; real estate holdings alone can often be cut by 40-50%, with subsequent energy savings.

Increasing Productivity - Up to a 30% increase according to the research, due to decreased absenteeism, an increase in the amount of time spent working (Telework Research Network estimates approximately 60% of the time saved by not commuting goes directly back to productive work time), and a more dedicated workforce.

Attracting and Retaining Top Talent - To be competitive, particularly with up-and-coming generations of workers, organizations are going to need to be more flexible. Organizations that underestimate the value of telecommuting could find themselves losing out - a survey by World at Work found that 1/3 of respondents were willing to take a pay cut in exchange for the ability to telework just two days a week.

Maintaining Business Continuity - Enables organizations to continue to operate under stressful times. For example, all that snow that is wreaking havoc on the midwest, can also wreak havoc on businesses whose employees can't make it into the office. Telework enables organizations to minimize disruptions due to disasters, weather, illness, etc. by allowing people to work remotely.

Reducing Environmental Impacts - Cutting down on individual emissions related to a daily commute - if you consider the U.S. Census Bureau estimatates that employees spend more than 100 hours commuting per year, it's easy to see how reducing the time someone needs to spend in their car can easily produce a lot of savings. (The Consumer Electronics Association found telecommuting could reduce gasoline consumption by 840 million gallons a year.)

So, with all these benefits, why has adoption stalled? It's probably due to a combination of technical and culturual issues.

Setting someone up to work remotely is frankly not as simple as we would like it to be - extending network resources to remote uses can be costly and complex. It's why it's not surprising access to the necessary technology and organizational resources are often cited as a top inhibitor to working from home (e.g. check out a survey by oneDrum). Luckily, the technology is evolving - advancements such as virtual desktops and new cloud-based distributed networking service models, which require no up-front capital investment and offer centeralized control, are making it easier for organizations to scale remote deployments.

But then there are the cultural barriers - HR Magazine noted that "HR departments fail to bridge the gap between flexible working policy and practice." The perception that people are not really working when they are "working from home" can often kill telework adoption. Everyone, and in particular management, within an organization needs to recognize it as a viable way to operate and get work done before it can be truly embraced. This requires creating the right policies, incentives and results-oriented culture that will enable telework to thrive.

It's why policy moves, such as the one made last week by the administration that give telework a stamp of approval from the top, are critical to generating its acceptance. Ultimately, those organizations with a productive telework culture are the ones who will be reaping all its benefits and ensuring they can thrive in the work place of the future.

For more in-depth analysis on the benefits, barriers and requirements (including handy checklists) for successful telework deployments, take a look at this eBook.

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