Traffic jams, road rage, wasted time, the anxiety of missing the 7:45 AM or the 5:32 PM train or bus -- it's all part of the workday commuting hassle.
But does it really have to be that way? Ten million Americans are saying, "NO!" These are Tele-Workers, or telecommuters, and their jobs are performed at home, in cars or in small branch offices at least three working days per month. Their numbers increased by ten percent in the past year to about eight percent of the American workforce, and for a lot of very good reasons.
During the last decade, we've seen many new organizational forms emerge from computer and tele-communications technology. Virtual enterprises, self-managed work teams, fast and efficient computer networks have created an entirely new model for work. Now, information and knowledge is in the client's office, at the beach and the mountains, and even at the lunch and dinner table. The internet allows access to information anywhere, anytime -- not just in the "traditional" office. Thus, employees can be anywhere and be very productive.
The concept of Tele-Work has been embraced by employers as a means to cut costs, attract the best talent and remain flexible and customer focused. When employees "hotel," a system in which up to ten people share the same office space or cubicle, real estate costs can be reduced. Also, fewer workers commuting to work every day means Clean Air Act requirements can be more easily satisfied. The best and brightest talent often appreciates Tele-Work because many commuting hassles can be eliminated, schedules are more flexible and there is more time for family, especially young children. In many cases, sales/marketing and service/operations people can be closer to customers, which is one of the keys to success in business today.
An example of how and why Tele-Work makes sense can be seen at the City of Los Angeles, where a major employee issue is long distances, and the fact that freeways are jammed, but cars are the principal mode of transportation. Here, Tele-Workers account for about 15,000 of the total workforce of some 45,000, and are trained in home office construction, productivity tracking and how to minimize distractions. Supervisors measure results instead of attendance and focus on job requirements in order to choose the "right" people for Tele-Work. Together, supervisors and employees decide on how costs will be split for home office equipment, message handling, information access and transfer, as well as time allocation and reporting.
However, Tele-Work is not without its problems. There are many potentially troubling issues of communication, relationships and working space at home.
- Communications equipment. Phones, fax, internet
access and computers/modems/e-mail will be necessary. Without
these, rapid information access and data transfer in today's world
is nearly impossible. But will the employer or Tele-Worker
pay for them? And, who will pay for the inevitable expensive upgrades
as technology marches on?
- Staying in the "loop." Communications with colleagues
at the main or regional office sometimes doesn't occur often enough.
Without this "schmoozing" about ideas, people, plans, happenings
and even gossip, a sense of isolation and dislocation may set
- Honey-do. A spouse or life partner will sometimes
say, "because you're home, honey, do this, or do that." Working
hours at home are for just that -- working -- and not for domestic
chores. But, that idea isn't always easy to impress upon others.
- "Off-limits" office space. Even though a DO NOT
ENTER sign is on the office door (and there must be a door!),
family members may interrupt during business hours, saying "emergencies"
- Kids playing. A home office computer and other
communication equipment can be enticing to kids. They may even
try to install games. This can really foul-up work programs.
- Small children. Interruptions by small children
during working hours can reduce productivity, since they often
aren't cared-for by another family member, or aren't in a day
- Training. Similar and consistant training for
both in-office and Tele-Workers often is difficult to conduct.
But without this, one of the two groups will become more advanced
in technology, as well as in the ability to access, input, store
and/or transfer information and data.
What we're really dealing with here is managing people and distance, and there are some very effective methods to do this.
Traditional organizations are changing dramatically.
Office walls, structures and traditions are crumbling because of microchips,
LANS and the internet, along with new ways of using them. If we are
truly in the information age and the virtual organization, it is the
way in which people, distance, and information/data are managed that
will determine the winners and losers.
- Ensure that there is adequate socializing and training. Either occasional off-site retreats or meetings in the main office can accomplish this. Tele-Workers can be trained in the dos and don'ts of car, home and/or small office management, as well as in computer and communication equipment operation. Additionally, in-office workers can "schmooze" with the Tele-Workers, thus making them feel they're a necessary part of the organization.
- Select the "right" employees for Tele-Work. These will be people who can both structure and motivate themselves. If past performance doesn't indicate who these employees are, use assessment profiles that can help discover them.
- Provide consistency of career pathing throughout the organization -- for both in-office employees and Tele-Workers. This should include equality in advancement, incentives, performance and appraisal.
- Support Tele-Workers from top management down to clerical staff. These employees must never feel they are "out there alone." Support includes continued communication from the main office, as well as negotiating a "fair" split of costs for home office equipment.