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Teleworking: Good or Bad?

There is an interesting June 24, 2013 piece from David Amerlandon the problems associated with teleworking entitled The Real Problem In Working From Home (It’s Not What You Think).  Among the good points made by the author are:

  • “…working from home can fail to fire up remote workers in the same way as a shared company environment. As a result, companies suffer—despite the increases in productivity and staff morale that come with teleworking.”
  • “In work environments that see co-workers mingle and shoot the breeze around the water cooler, some real learning gets done. A lot of information exchange takes place, which allows the very same workers to increase their value to the organization.”
  • “Magical or not, the fact remains that teleworking generally doesn’t work well, because corporations still haven’t solved the issues of remote learning, knowledge sharing, or firing up ideas. If that “magic” is to happen, you still need office face-time.”

Although these are all valid points, I believe that Mr. Amerland has missed three important issues that are today limiting the value of telework:

  • Many companies have failed to grasp the value of social and collaborative technologies that can replace much (in most cases not all) of the in-person experiences that foster idea sharing, collaboration and innovation.  While the water cooler experience is a valuable one, much of that experience can be recreated with the right mix of social technologies and a corporate culture focused on using them effectively.
  • Many managers simply don’t know how to give a performance review to someone they don’t see on a regular basis.  The problem is that management needs to find ways to evaluate people based on their value to the enterprise, not on how well they schmooze at the water cooler.
  • The value of having all of your employees in one physical location is real, but it is value that is paid for by a) employees who fund their own commute to the tune of several thousand dollars per year in direct and indirect costs, and b) employers who might experience greater turnover among employees who have fewer options about how to manage their work-life balance.

The solution, as I see it, is fairly straightforward: i

  • mplement the right technologies and management practices so that you can “fire up remote workers in the same way as a shared company environment”.  A failure to do so might not be the fault of teleworkers, but in those who manage them.
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