Telecommuting Losing its Luster

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Toward the beginning of this century telecommuting was the hottest thing going on.  Working from home meant less car expense, the chance to work in a comfortable environment, and increased productivity through fewer distractions.  What could be better than churning out last quarter’s sales figures with a cup of coffee at your side and bunny slippers on your feet?

As it turns out telecommuting is a really good idea for a really limited number of companies. The number of telecommuters has actually decreased over the last three years.

Not All Employees Are Cut Out For It

The employee that is a self-starter in the office environment may be too easily distracted by the minutiae of life at home. It takes an uber-focused employee to self-discipline themselves to x number of work hours, x amount of time for lunch, and x number of breaks.

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A significant number of workers are taking advantage of the long leash.  Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder says, “To avoid situations where telecommuters aren’t putting in the necessary time, managers need to be clear about expectations and establish daily objectives. The autonomy of working from home can be very rewarding, so long as it doesn’t diminish productivity.”

Team Work Tends To Suffer

In a positive work environment employees build relationships with one another and for the company as a whole.  Working alone shreds that, leaving the employee feeling out of the loop or, in worse case scenarios, not a member of the team at all.  Companies that intend to embrace the concept of telecommuting need to schedule frequent face to face opportunities.  Skype is good but the employee needs to feel a firm handshake, occasionally, to acknowledge a job well done.

Impact on Career Invisible

This is a real concern and may well be the biggest resistance point for the employee.  “Out of sight, out of mind,” isn’t just an expression from the world of romance and relationships.  The perception may be that the employee who telecommutes is passed over for key projects and promotion that would be beneficial to someone looking to grow with the company.

Unless the employer is diligent in recognizing this danger, the perception just may be true.  The people who are in a position to reward through promotion must remember that typically, it is the most independent and self-motivated individuals who are good candidates for telecommuting — the same traits that characterize upwardly mobile employees in general. One of the key responsibilities of being a manager is employee development. Telecommuters, as part of the staff, need to be part of this process.

Cost 

Doesn’t it always come down to this?  Many companies find it financially unfeasible to outfit a home office with all of the reproduction and imaging hardware that is available in the traditional office.  The telecommuter can handle some of this with smartphone technology but there comes a time when you need the cleanest copy in the world, and the IBM Big Boy Copymaster 14000 at the office is the best option.

Companies that include telecommuting as an option may need to alert in-office support and assistance personnel that their help will be needed in this area. There are advantages to telecommuting for both sides of the employer/employee equation.  Knowing the disadvantages can make the decision a more informed one.