Telecommuting Has Come of Age

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Telework makes a significant positive impact on the environment, provides for business continuity, and adds workforce that might not otherwise contribute to the economy. This paper details why …

Telework makes a significant positive impact on the environment, provides for business continuity, and adds workforce that might not otherwise contribute to the economy. This paper details why telecommuting is not only attractive, it argues that it is an imperative.

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  • 1. 03 October, 2010 TELECOMMUTING HAS COME OF AGE Work-Life Balance may Save the Planet Greg Aldrich linkedin.com/in/galdrich Abstract Telework makes a significant positive impact on the environment, provides for business continuity, and adds workforce that might not otherwise contribute to the economy. This paper details why telecommuting is not only attractive, it argues that it is an imperative.
  • 2. 1 Telecommuting Has Come of Age Telecommuting is on the rise, with several factors driving the migration of workers to home settings. Telework, whether part or full time, can benefit the environment, the employee, and the employer. In addition, advances in technology, recognition of a remote workforce as a business continuity enabler, and changing workforce requirements are leading to increased adoption in business and government organizations. The US Dept. of Transportation indicated that teleworker numbers increased approximately 100% over two 5-year periods, 1992 to 1997 and 1997 to 2002.1 In 2008, WorldAtWork, an association of human resource professionals, indicated that telework programs were being offered by 40% more employers than the year before.2 Further, the US Department of Labor Statistics reported the number of Americans who telecommuted at least once monthly saw an increase of 3% (from 8% to 11%) between 2006 and 2008.3 But, to be successful, telecommuting programs need management support, clear policies and procedures, and technology that provides secure access and the ability to collaborate to make working at home a seamless experience. Further, although many agree that telework offers appreciable benefits, there are also drawbacks, including social isolation, reductions in respect from coworkers and supervisors, and concerns about the actual productivity of those working in a home setting. 1 Jeffrey Mello, “Managing Telework Programs Effectively.” Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal 19, no. 4 (2007): 247- 261, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10672-007-9051-1 2 Tam Harbert, “The Trouble with Telecommuting.” Computer World, http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/326693/The_Trouble_With_Telecommuting 3 Caroline Bartel, Amy Wrzeniewski and Batia M. Wiesenfeld, “Knowing Where You Stand: Physical Isolation, Perceived Respect, and Organizational Identification Among Virtual Employees.” Organization 23, no.3 (2012): 743- 757, http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1110.0661
  • 3. 2 Benefits 1. The Environment An obvious benefit of allowing employees to work from home is the reduction in gas consumption and carbon emissions; Yu cites a study which determined that a daily commute to work released over 51,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and resulted in a yearly fuel consumption of approximately 400 gallons.4 Newell cited state representative Gerald E. Connolly as stating that “48% of our imports of Persian Gulf oil could be avoided if just 20% of all Americans telecommuted just one day a week.”5 In 2006, the US Bureau of Transportation documented a 35 billion vehicle mile reduction traveled per year which resulted in a 1.7 billion gallon reduction in fuel consumption.6 As many company IT departments are pursuing "Green IT" initiatives, telecommuting should not be overlooked. There is a great deal of focus on the data center and virtualization but a well-managed work-from-home program can provide a significant carbon footprint reduction. Another study commissioned in 2007 by the CEA indicated that 3.9 million U.S. telecommuters would save about 14 million tons of CO2 emissions and 840 million gallons of gas.7 Besides the reduction in carbon emissions and gasoline usage, telecommuting leads to a reduction in traffic congestion and air pollution which not only helps the environment; it leads to enhanced quality of life.8 4 Shane Yu, “How to Make Teleworking Work: Widespread Adoption of Telecommuting Programs is Often Hindered by Non-Technical Factors.” Communications News 45:15 (2008): 30-32, http://www.alacrastore.com/storecontent/bamp/191315678 5 Elizabeth Newell, “Homing in on Telework.” Government Executive 42.11 (2010): 6-33, http://www.govexec.com/magazine/features/2010/09/homing-in-on-telework/32267/ 6 Mello, Employee Responsibilities, 250. 7 Jeffrey Hill, “Telecommuting Tax Troubles.” The Next American City (2008): 15-16, www.docstoc.com/search/telecommuting-tax-troubles 8 Newell, 15.
  • 4. 3 2. Quality of Life Quality of life is improved, not only by easing traffic issues and reducing smog but also because teleworkers regain valuable time that is lost during a commute. Depending on the length of the commute, this could recover a significant amount of a given employee's time. This could create more hours on the job or dedicated to family. Traffic congestion is also frustrating. Calling into that first meeting of the day from home versus from the office after a stressful commute can definitely induce positive well-being, which, in turn, will make a positive difference in employee engagement and productivity. A work-from-home program can be a strong motivator for potential candidates as well as a tool to increase retention. 3. Productivity By avoiding daily commutes, Sun Microsystems estimates that their work-at-home employees gain up to two and half weeks of work time each year.9 Four-day work weeks have been proposed as an answer to rising energy costs but rather than 10-hour days, telecommuting one day a week provides the same benefit but with increased productivity.10 4. Cost Savings Besides the savings to employees for gas and vehicle depreciation, there are cost savings employers receive as a result of telecommuting employees. Sun Microsystems’ Open 9 Behzad Behtash, “Telework Saves Green, Too.” Information Week (2008): 36-38, http://www.informationweek.com 10 Yu, 30.
  • 5. 4 Work Program has been running for over 14 years and through it, more than half of its workforce (about 20,000 employees), work from home one or more days per week. Through the program, Sun was able to reduce real estate holdings over 15%, resulting in a savings of about $68 million in 2007 alone.11 According to the US Patent and Trade office, the savings achieved in avoiding the expense of additional offices for the more than 5600 employees working from home equates to $11 million.12 And this does not come close to the benefits telework may accrue for the federal government. As Caldow observes, “if only a small percentage of the 1.8 million U.S. Federal employees were equipped to perform their jobs outside the office, cost savings in real estate, related capital assets, and utilities could number in the tens of billions.”13 5. Government Incentives and Mandates There are incentives and regulations provided by many governments encouraging “green” behaviors and this can apply to telecommuting as well. There is a $500 tax credit in several counties in California; Georgia gives up to $20,000 in tax credits for feasibility studies as well as up to $1,200 credit for each employee working from home; and a tax credit up to $35,000 per company may be granted by Virginia. Governments are instituting telework mandates for their workforces. Arizona initiated a program in 1989 that required 20 percent of its workforce to be based at home.14 6. Service Continuity 11 Behtash, 37. 12 Newell, 18. 13 Janet Caldow, “Working Outside the Box: A Study of the Growing Momentum in Telework.” Institute for Electronic Government, IBM Corporation (2009): 2-14, http://www- 01.ibm.com/industries/government/ieg/pdf/working_outside_the_box.pdf 14 Yu, 31.
  • 6. 5 As was underscored by the impact of the past and more recent severe weather events on businesses and industries, work-at-home programs can be a powerful service continuity capability. Sun’s Open Work program improved business continuity and disaster response during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the wildfires of 2007 in California.15 Many businesses spend a great deal of time and money ensuring they have data center facilities available in the case of a disaster, but these facilities could be useless if the workforce has nowhere from which to connect. The federal government now considers telework capabilities a key aspect in the assurance of operations continuity programs.16 Clearly, as Gajendran and Harrison state, “where the impact of telecommuting has been empirically evaluated, it seems to boost productivity, decrease absenteeism, and increase retention.”17 In fact, it seems ideal; as Huws wrote over two decades ago: To the plate-glass and steel city centre skyscraper it counterposes a rural cottage; to the bustling, humming life of crowded office, it counterposes domestic tranquillity; to the daily bodily crush on a rush-hour commuter train, it counterposes a disembodied, abstract, almost ethereal form of communication which leaves the senses intact and unassaulted.18 However, many researchers who have evaluated the impact, benefits, and drawbacks of telework say, “Not so fast.” Taken as an isolated subject, telework may seem like a dream 15 Behtash, 37. 16 Newell, 19. 17 Mary C. Noonan and Jennifer L. Glass, “The Hard Truth About Telecommuting.” Monthly Labor Review (June 2012): 38-45, http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/06/art3full.pdf 18 Pasi Pyöriӓ, “Managing Telework: Risks, Fears and Rules.” Management Research Review 34, no. 4 (2011): 386- 399, http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01409171111117843
  • 7. 6 come true, but if that’s the case, why hasn’t the concept taken deeper hold and expanded everywhere? Limitations and Provisos 1. Management Concerns Managers can and do have strong reservations about telework fitting into their organizational schema. Pyöriӓ cited the early studies of Nilles (1998) and Suomi and Pekkola (1999) concerning managers’ ingrained attitudes, stating that “. . . there is one thing that is always constant: the reluctance of managers to relinquish their power”.19 A further concern is that, since the task of managers is to manage, what becomes of their roles if a large percentage of employees are engaged in telework while comfortably ensconced in their homes, far from direct supervision? Besides well-defined performance management and strong policies and procedures to govern the program and the remote workers, there is concern over accessibility and disconnection from the office environment. Companies that rely on a high level of collaboration such as Intel have concerns over having remote workers as part of a project team. Additional concerns include how engaged remote employees will be and whether the company received the same intellectual investment and creativity as the workers in the office. It is important to select the right candidates for teleworking. Within IT, there are jobs that clearly can be worked from any location and other that require a great deal of interaction that might be better suited 19 Pyöriӓ, 391.
  • 8. 7 to being in the office. Both Intel and Hewlett-Packard have recalled IT teleworkers, citing a negative impact on IT employee productivity and collaboration.20 2. Respect and Inclusion There has been a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that home-based employees have the perception of lowered value to their companies and treatment that differs from their coworkers. Bartel et al. (2012) cite one participant in their study as saying that “[t]here’s a perception that people don’t work from home . . . my manager wrote to me every afternoon at 5 P.M. and I knew it was to check if I was still working.” And further, “[b]eing the go-to person is the biggest sign of respect – you’re just less likely to be that person when you’re not around every day.”21 The participant was discussing what is called organizational identification, which “occurs when employees feel a sense of attachment toward the organization, incorporate the organization into their self-concept, and feel a sense of belonging within the organization.”22 Depending on the amount of time (part-time, with the rest of the work week spent onsite, or full-time) an employee is engaged in telework, this identification may be more or less salient. In fact, keeping in mind the assumed benefits provided by telework, i.e., independence, the ability to fulfill family responsibilities, reduction of the pressures of commuting, Gajendran and Harrison (2007) observed what they termed “a telecommuting paradox, in which telework was 20 Harbert, Computer World. 21 Bartel et al., 745. 22 Kathryn L. Fonner and Michael E. Roloff, “Testing the Connectivity Paradox: Linking Teleworkers’ Communication Media Use to Social Presence, Stress from Interruptions, and Organizational Identification.” Communication Monographs 79, no. 2 (2012): 205-231, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2012.673000
  • 9. 8 expected to afford greater autonomy and lower work-life conflict while simultaneously damaging employees’ connections to their colleagues and supervisors.”23 This idea was supported in Elsbach, Cable, and Sherman’s article discussing the need to “show your face at work.” Their research pointed to discrepancies in performance evaluations, raises and promotions between telecommuters and their office-bound associates whereby even those who completed an equal amount of work in their homes lacked what they called passive face time – essentially, showing up at the office with no particular importance given to what you did or how you did it while there. Merely because their presence was noted, those employees who worked in the office were considered to be more responsible and dependable; further, if they arrived early, stayed late or appeared on the weekend, their presumed traits received an automatic upgrade to “committed” and “dedicated.”24 3. Legal Issues There are multiple human resource management issues to have encountered by companies seeking to establish or encourage telecommuting as a work option, including but not limited to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s provisions for overtime, workers compensation, OSHA violations, accommodations as proscribed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and confidentiality concerns. One of these issues, compliance with FLSA’s overtime regulations, is of particular concern, having recently cost Farmers Insurance 90 million dollars, while IBM settled a case at a cost of $65,000,000. Calvasina et al. point out that “[i]n the virtual workplace, the employee is more often than not left to regulate start, break, and quit times. This environment 23 Fonner and Roloff, 208. 24 Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable, “Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters.” Sloan Management Review 53, no. 4 (2012): 11-12, http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/2012-summer/53407/why-showing-your-face-at- work-matters/
  • 10. 9 complicates the record keeping necessary to make sure employees are properly compensated for all compensable time.”25 Genova notes another overtime-related issue: so-called “Blackberry time.” Frequently, managers feel that employees issued smartphones for use during working hours should be constantly available during those hours; however, employees who have been surveyed report that this connectivity extended from one to five hours into what should have been considered nonworking time.26 This becomes even more of a problem for telecommuters; after all, since they don’t “punch out,” it would not be too much of a stretch for them to be considered available nearly 24/7. Solutions and Mandates for Success 1. Communication and Collaboration Connectivity was once the main concern for telecommuting programs but technology advancements such as the wide availability of high-speed broadband Internet access and several VPN (Virtual Private Network) options have made secure remote access to corporate applications a seamless experience. With today’s client VPN technology from companies like Cisco and Juniper, robust solutions are available that provide the same experience for the home-based worker as if they were in the office. A VPN solution provides for encrypted communication across the Internet making it seem as though a remote corporate asset is on 25 Gerald E. Calvasina, Richard V. Calvasina, and Eugene J. Calvasina, “The Virtual Office: HRM Legal, Policy, and Practice Issues.” Business Studies Journal 4, no. 2 (2012): 37-46, http://www.alliedacademies.com/Public/Proceedings/Proceedings30/BSA%20Proceedings%20Spring%202012.pdf #page=5 26 Gina Genova, “The Anywhere Office= Anywhere Liability.” Business Communication Quarterly 73, no. 1 (2010): 119-126, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1080569909358104
  • 11. 10 the local office LAN. Besides client-based VPN solutions, Cisco and Aruba offer home teleworker solutions that actually extend the corporate network into the employee’s home. A small router provides the VPN connectivity and allows the home user to plug their company laptop and even a company IP phone into it. If configured properly, only a company asset can plug in and access the network, ensuring network security can’t be compromised by a rogue device. Beyond connectivity, technology plays an important role in addressing management’s concerns over accessibility and collaboration. IP phones represent only one component of communications that can be extended to the remote worker. One benefit is the extension of the same dial plan so a call to a remote worker is no different than dialing the extension of someone in the office.27 This does not address visibility or availability; however, but a wider deployment of Unified Communications can. Technologies such as Microsoft’s Office Communication Server or OCS are well-suited to solving teleworker collaboration concerns. With instant messaging and presence now extended to the remote worker, a fully integrated solution provides availability information and the ability to reach out at any time. These solutions make it easy to create ad-hoc conferences and can include desktop video, bringing remote workers closer than ever, albeit virtually, to their colleagues back in the office. Presence, if integrated with the employee’s calendar such as with Microsoft OCS and Exchange, can automatically flag a user as busy with clear information such as “in a meeting.” Integrating VoIP, whether using OCS voice services or integrating with an IP PBX, can also indicate if the employee is “in a call.” Features like “Find Me-Follow Me” leverage this context- 27 Behtash, 38.
  • 12. 11 aware presence to determine the best way to reach an employee or deliver a message.28 Many collaboration solutions also provide for “virtual whiteboard” technology so that remote colleagues can jointly work through a whiteboard session just like they would if they were in the same office or conference room. 2. Measurability of Work Output As already discussed, both human resources offices and supervisors may have a difficult time accepting the concept of telework due to their inability to objectively measure actual work performed.29 This can be mitigated if the work is at least to some extent quantifiable; this would be relatively easy in the case of repetitive tasks such as data entry but also in sales, as performance in such work can be easily measured in terms of dollar amounts sold. Caldow suggests that all workers be measured on performance results rather than location and offers some cogent questions be asked about both office and telework employees: “What annual goals and objectives are expected? How well were goals achieved?” and adds that where they were achieved is irrelevant.30 3. Type of Work Performed There may be certain types of work better done in a controlled office setting or as telework independent of the office environment. Dutcher’s work on the effects of telecommuting on productivity supports this idea; dividing tasks in two categories, “dull” and “creative,” he found that when so-called dull work was performed in an external setting, 28 Sushant S. Shahani. "Technology Case Study: Unified Communications." Master's Thesis State University of New York Institute of Technology, 2008. 29 Ozgur Turetken, Abhijit Jain, Brandi Quesenberry, and Ojelanki Ngwenyama, “An Empirical Investigation of the Impact of Individual and Work Characteristics on Telecommuting Success.” IEEE Transaction on Professional Communication 54, no. 1 (2011): 56-66, http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2010.2041387 30 Caldow, 13.
  • 13. 12 productivity decreased by 6 to 10%. In contrast, tasks more creative in nature were completed at an increased rate of 11 to 20%.31 4. Managerial Attitudes In 2010, Peters, den Dulk and de Ruijter studied managerial attitudes and their effect on the adoption of telework as a new and hopefully growing work practice. It was their observation that, by and large, managers choose to adhere to more traditional management styles, thus protecting their own ability to control and coordinate the workplace. The researchers’ solution was two-fold: management of human resources should be both internally consistent and “based on a view of the employment relationship which stresses commitment and trust as guiding principles, rather than control and coordination.”32 5. “Face Time” and Isolation Teleworkers are, by definition, physically separated from their own business communities. That being the case, there must be a concerted and acknowledged effort to keep those workers from being “out of sight, out of mind.” To prevent physical distance from becoming social distance and, hence, alienation, it’s crucial to create and sustain a systematic feedback system33 and use “virtual” face time by taking advantage of available technology.34 31 E. Glenn Dutcher, “The Effects of Telecommuting on Productivity: An Experimental Examination. The Role of Dull and Creative Tasks.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 84 (2012): 355-363, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167268112000893 32 Pascale Peters, Laura den Dulk, and Judith de Ruijter, “May I Work From Home? Views of the Employment Relationship Reflected in Line Managers’ Telework Attitudes in Six Financial-Sector Organizations.” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 29, no. 5 (2010): 517-531, http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02610151011052799 33 Pyöriӓ, 391. 34 Elsbach and Cable, 12.
  • 14. 13 Advances in technology have made it easier to provide robust, secure access to corporate networks and applications. Increasing telework can have a significant positive impact on the environment while helping to provide for business continuity during a natural or man- made disaster. Given the significant benefits, it makes sense for businesses to adopt or expand telecommuting programs but they need to ensure that employees and managers are adequately prepared. Proper candidate selection and training should take into account management and employee concerns to ensure both are comfortable with the program. Unified Communications including VoIP, instant messaging, presence, and video should be available and extended to the remote worker so that they can continue to collaborate with colleagues as if they were in the office or cubicle next door. Some managers suggest that work-at-home employees come to the office at least one day per week. An important consideration for this is hoteling or providing temporary workspace for visiting teleworkers. Leveraging IP telephony capabilities, a phone in a hotel cube or office can be logged into by the visiting teleworker, providing them with the same extension that they have at home. Depending on the number of telecommuters that need access to a workspace when they visit the office, hotel cubes and offices can be added to the calendaring solution as a resource so they can be reserved to ensure availability. Conclusion Telecommuting is becoming more common due to increasing gas prices, increased environmental awareness, and a renewed and ongoing concern for employee work-life balance. Advances in technology have made it easier to provide robust, secure access to corporate networks and applications and managerial attitudes can be adjusted with appropriate
  • 15. 14 education as to the value of an off-site workforce. Increasing telework can have a significant positive impact on the environment, provide for business continuity during a natural or man- made disaster, and open doors to employment for thousands of individuals who might otherwise have been blocked from both contributing to economic growth and personal and professional achievement. All of this makes taking a closer look at telework as a viable alternative more than worthwhile; the advantages make it imperative.
  • 16. 15 References Bartel, Caroline, Wrzeniewski, Amy and Wiesenfeld, Batia M. “Knowing Where You Stand: Physical Isolation, Perceived Respect, and Organizational Identification Among Virtual Employees.” Organization 23, no.3 (2012): 743-757. http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1110.0661 Behtash, Behzad, “Telework Saves Green, Too.” Information Week (2008): 36-38. http://www.informationweek.com Caldow, Janet. “Working Outside the Box: A Study of the Growing Momentum in Telework.” Institute for Electronic Government, IBM Corporation (2009): 2-14. http://www- 01.ibm.com/industries/government/ieg/pdf/working_outside_the_box.pdf Calvasina, Gerald E., Calvasina, Richard V. & Calvasina, Eugene J. “The Virtual Office: HRM Legal, Policy, and Practice Issues.” Business Studies Journal 4, no. 2 (2012): 37-46. http://www.alliedacademies.com/Public/Proceedings/Proceedings30/BSA%20Proceedin gs%20Spring%202012.pdf#page=5 Dutcher, E. Glenn. “The Effects of Telecommuting on Productivity: An Experimental Examination. The Role of Dull and Creative Tasks.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 84 (2012): 355-363. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167268112000893 Elsbach, Kimberly & Cable, Daniel. “Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters.” Sloan Management Review 53, no. 4 (2012): 11-12. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the- magazine/2012-summer/53407/why-showing-your-face-at-work-matters/ Fonner, Kathryn L. & Roloff, Michael E. “Testing the Connectivity Paradox: Linking Teleworkers’ Communication Media Use to Social Presence, Stress from Interruptions, and Organizational Identification.” Communication Monographs 79, no. 2 (2012): 205-231, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2012.673000 Genova, Gina. “The Anywhere Office= Anywhere Liability.” Business Communication Quarterly 73, no. 1 (2010): 119-126. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1080569909358104 Harbert, Tam. “The Trouble with Telecommuting.” Computer World 2008. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/326693/The_Trouble_With_Telecommuting Hill, Jeffrey. “Telecommuting Tax Troubles.” The Next American City (2008): 15-16. www.docstoc.com/search/telecommuting-tax-troubles
  • 17. 16 Mello, Jeffrey. “Managing Telework Programs Effectively.” Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal 19, no. 4 (2007): 247- 261. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10672-007-9051-1 Newell, Elizabeth. “Homing in on Telework.” Government Executive 42.11 (2010): 6-33. http://www.govexec.com/magazine/features/2010/09/homing-in-on-telework/32267/ Noonan, Mary C. & Glass, Jennifer L. “The Hard Truth About Telecommuting.” Monthly Labor Review (June 2012): 38-45, http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/06/art3full.pdf Peters, Pascale, den Dulk, Laura, & de Ruijter, Judith. “May I Work From Home? Views of the Employment Relationship Reflected in Line Managers’ Telework Attitudes in Six Financial-Sector Organizations.” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 29, no. 5 (2010): 517-531. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02610151011052799 Pyöriӓ, Pasi. “Managing Telework: Risks, Fears and Rules.” Management Research Review 34, no. 4 (2011): 386-399, http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01409171111117843 Sahani, Sushant S. "Technology Case Study: Unified Communications." Master's Thesis, State University of New York Institute of Technology, 2008. Turetken, Ozgur, Jain, Abhijit, Quesenberry, Brandi, & Ngwenyama, Ojelanki. “An Empirical Investigation of the Impact of Individual and Work Characteristics on Telecommuting Success.” IEEE Transaction on Professional Communication 54, no. 1 (2011): 56-66. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2010.2041387 Yu, Shane. “How to Make Teleworking Work: Widespread Adoption of Telecommuting Programs is Often Hindered by Non-Technical Factors.” Communications News 45:15 (2008): 30-32, http://www.alacrastore.com/storecontent/bamp/191315678