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Telecommuting, Take Two

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It's not surprising that the telecommuting landscape has changed during the past few years, as broadband and mobile devices have become ubiquitous and, more recently, fuel prices have hit the roof. An expected telecommuting report from CDW, which is previewed in this Web Workers Daily piece, dissects those changes.

 

The report says that as of a year ago, the federal government was the clear telecommuting leader. This year, private sector telecommuters trail federal workers by just 3 percentage points, 17 percent to 14 percent. Furthermore, only 6 percent of federal employees telecommute five days per week, while 30 percent of private sector workers do. Not surprisingly, the number of people motivated to telecommute by transportation costs jumped from 31 percent to 67 percent.

 

IT Voir does a good job of concisely stating the value proposition of telecommuting. Working from home saves office space, eliminates commuting time, improves employees' work/life balance, enhances productivity and tends to reduce turnover. The only major advantage the writer misses is the fact that cutting down on travel is environmentally friendly.

 

Perhaps the problem with telecommuting over the years is that it was assumed to be a panacea. This Computerworld feature says that while there clearly are advantages to telecommuting, two big companies have bucked the trend: HP ended its program and Intel now requires half its teleworkers to work in the office four days per week. In both cases, the problem was negative impact on productivity and collaboration.

 

The story offers six areas of concern about telecommuting, from the core decision on whether or not a person's job lends itself to working from home to finding ways to ensure that collaboration and creativity don't suffer because of the reduction in real human contact.

 

There appears to be more realism surrounding telecommuting and telework now. For one thing, the concept has been subsumed into the broader world of remote (but not necessarily home) working. The views of teleworkers and their managers also are being recognized. This US News & World Report piece says that workers may not want to -- or may actually fear -- working away from the office because of concerns about being out of touch with superiors whose favor they must curry. Managers' concerns focus on productivity loses, a fear validated by the HP and Intel moves. Others say that city dwellers often don't have room in their homes for a proper office and that people enjoy and gain from working in a business environment.

 

Clearly, telecommuting has been successful, but not the overwhelming hit that many people envisioned. This is leading to a more realistic approach that acknowledges the negatives and challenges more fully. This mindset will sustain its growth, even when fuel prices recede.

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