Telework successful telework programs and that some companies
Telework (Telecommuting): the Benefits – and some Issues! Teleworking offers significant benefits to employers, employees, self employed individuals and entrepreneurs, and in developing the local economy. It also presents opportunities to secure wider social benefits – for example by reducing the environmental impact of car travel. Management Technology Associates has conducted several studies to obtain and analyze the views of experienced teleworkers and of managers who have experience in working with teleworkers.The following summary of the benefits includes only those aspects where a majority of experienced teleworkers and managers concur that a worthwhile benefit has been obtained. Note that benefits only accrue from successful telework programs and that some companies have attempted telework programs but subsequently reverted to office based working having had a negative experience. Some aspects of telework that must be considered in order to achieve success and minimize problems are discussed below under “Are there drawbacks? “. Cost savingsThe main savings are in premises costs, office overheads and labor.
Companies adopting telework methods achieve significant reductions in total office occupancy. Work can be carried out wherever the appropriate skills are available at the optimum mix of costs and other factors. In some circumstances recruitment costs can also be reduced, as can the costs associated with high staff turnover (attrition) rates.
If a company adopts a total “flexible working” strategy, all costs associated with relocation of staff can be eliminated.Increased productivity Productivity increases of 40% have been reported, though a range of 10%-40% is probably more typical across a large-scale program. Teleworkers avoid travel time and the interruptions of a office environment. Both teleworkers and their managers consistently report significant productivity gains.
Improved motivation In successful programs, employees respond well to the signal of trust and confidence indicated by the employer’s adoption of more independent work styles encouraged by teleworking. Skills retentionEmployees who might otherwise leave can remain in their jobs, for example when the family moves because of a job change by another family member who works in a non-telework company. Employees who take a career break can continue working part time and remain up to date with the business and its methods. Employees who take maternity leave can continue to undertake some tasks and require less retraining when they return to work full time. Organization flexibility In the event of restructuring and reorganization people can continue to work without disruption to their personal lives.
People work in dispersed teams that can be assembled and reassembled as the needs of the enterprise change. Teams representing the best skills and experience for a particular project can be created, regardless of geography and time zones and with a minimal need for extra travel. Flexible staffing In activities that generate peaks and troughs of workload, telework can enable staff to work limited hours to match peak workload, without the staff concerned having to travel. In limited hours working the travel element can otherwise become as long as the work time.In some cases staff can be on “standby time” at home at retainer rates and then paid at higher rates when needed for active work. Resilience Organizations with effective teleworking programs are more resilient in the face of external disruption – for example transport strikes, severe weather, natural disasters or terrorist action.
Enhanced customer service Customer services can be extended beyond the working day or the working week without the costs of overtime payments or the need for staff to work (and travel) at unsocial hours. Are there drawbacks?As with any new technology or technique, telework only yields benefits when applied in the right circumstances and in the right way. We are developing a “Frequently Asked Questions”* section for this web site that will list and address all the issues that need to be considered in order to run a successful telework program, whether as an individual, as an enterprise, or in support of a local community or region. Meanwhile, the main aspects that have to be right in order for telework to yield benefits rather than problems are: The personHome based telework is inappropriate for some people – for example those who have poor personal motivation and are not “self starters” may need the external discipline provided by set hours and a managed environment.
There’s also a case to suggest that young people entering work for the first time may benefit greatly from working in a conventional team setting in their early years. For some people, “going to work” is an important part of their lives, and the “place of work” is where they make friends and develop their social skills and contacts.A “telecentres” approach may address some but not all of these issues. The place Many homes are not well equipped for some kinds of telework.
For example even the most highly motivated individual could have problems focusing on and completing a series of concentrative tasks in a small apartment with children underfoot and noisy neighbors on the other side of a flimsy wall. A “telecentres” programme would be more appropriate in this case. The employer organizationSome companies have management systems and cultures that are not (yet) well adapted to the flexibility that telework can entail. Our survey of UK managers’ opinions showed that there are many manager who lack confidence in their ability to “manage at a distance”, and also those who lack faith in their staff’s commitment and so feel that home based workers would be inclined to underperform. The work task Not all tasks are best performed in a distributed, self managing environment.
There are many tasks that gain considerably from the very close interactions of a team working together in one room, or from the synergy of closely supervised teams. Examples include some kinds of design or other creative work, where the very casual “rub off” of the studio or research setting is an important part of the creative process. In some customer service or sales activities there’s an advantage to the kind of team spirit and internal motivation that can best be generated by leaders and managers sitting in with the teams and “leading from the front”.Some of our colleagues also feel that a high proportion of clerical work may best be undertaken in a closely managed setting. None of these considerations is necessarily a barrier to telework, they just illustrate how things can go wrong if a telework program isn’t well thought through.
If we do get someone teleworking in the wrong setting doing a task that’s inappropriate, we must expect problems. Too often, the result is a judgment that “telework doesn’t work” or “telework doesn’t work for us”. The truth is, “we made a mess of adopting telework”!