‘Work from Home’ Employees – Are they here to stay?
Posted in Human Resources Articles, Total Reads: 3412
, Published on 10 December 2013
‘Trrring! Trrring!’ rings your alarm clock at 8:00 AM. You suppress your feelings of wanting to throw the annoying little thing out of the window, and groggily head to the shower to quickly get ready for office which begins at 9:00 AM. You spend close to 30 minutes in traffic and dash to your cubicle only to find that you are 15 minutes late and the all-important meeting has already begun.
The drudgery has begun for you; just as it has for millions around the world.
Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net
Telecommuting is a concept that dates back to the 1970’s but has increasingly gained popularity over the last 20 odd years. It refers to a work arrangement in which employees do not commute to a central work place. Rather, they work from home with help of advancing technology that enables them to do so. This term was coined by Jack Niles in 1973. (Source:Wikipedia)
Benefits of telecommuting
(Source: Corporate Executive Board)
An ideal telecommuter
Literature suggests that the ideal telecommuters possess the ability to work independently without constant monitoring. They have excellent oral and communication skills and has the ability to solve problems independently.
Also, they are usually proven performers with strong past job reviews and are goal oriented and organized. They usually share great trust levels with their supervisors and are willing to share information with their team members. They always make it a point to keep their peers and supervisors updated on the progress of their work. Also, telecommuters are generally systematic and clearly document their work.
We have seen that telecommuting brings in a lot of cost benefits to the organization and gives more freedom to the employee; but could there be another angle to it too?
The Flip Side
An employee who works from home would initially find it great to be able to spend time at home without compromising on work. But in time, he/she could experience fatigue. Come to think of it, office is not just a place where people work as machines; it is a pace where people form friendships, a lot of social exchanges happen and in general, a lot of bonding happens. These informal bonds are what go on to build great collaborative teams. And increasingly we find that employees need that kind of a social circle where they can openly discuss issues – be it official or personal.
Also, it is a known fact that when employees work together as teams, a lot of give and take happens; we see people helping each other in work – an individual working from home would miss out on all this.
Also, for some it is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. And these applies to bosses also. If a new project/assignment came up, it is more likely that they would give it to an employee whom they see daily, say in the elevator or the wash room; just because that person’s face might have been the first to come to their mind. Again, we see that the telecommuters are at a disadvantageous position despite being highly productive employee.
Another factor we need to consider is the perception of the employee’s family and society in general. The society generally tends to undervalue a person who works from home. Somehow there is this impression that ‘work from home’ means part time work or insignificant work. There is a lot of catching up that the society in general has to do.
Now all these factors put together, could make the telecommuter feel alienated from his employer. The work he would do could become highly transactional devoid of any emotional commitment or intangible bonds.
Have companies embraced this concept of telecommuting?
In a recent survey by Aon Hewitt – ‘Employee Preference Study 2013’ which covered 7000 employees in different organizations across the country, one in three employees ranked ‘flexi-work arrangements’ as one of their top preferences.
Several companies like HSBC, P&G, Mahindra & Mahindra, Citibank and PwC are using this tool of giving ‘work from home’ option to their employees as a key retention and motivating device. This is a boon for working mothers who have put in a lot of effort to build their careers. Male employees too welcome this option, because they say this gives them an opportunity to spend more time at home with their children and family. Some others feel, this option enables them to run errands like visiting banks or any Govt. offices as these remain open only during the work days and that too during fixed hours.
But some other companies haven’t been as receptive to this concept. Yahoo.inc was one of the first few companies to have adopted telecommuting but recently, its new CEO Marissa Mayer decided to discontinue the ‘work from home’ policy as she felt that in-person meetings boost the quality of decisions and business ideas. She argues that some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. She says, “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” But, this decision has met with enormous discontent among its employees
Mayer’s decision finds support from Saurabh Govil, HR Vice President, Wipro who believes that productivity could get hampered if one works from home as in India, most employees do not have separate offices in their homes. Srimathi Shivashankar, AVP, HCL Technologies echoes similar concerns as she says that extended family members have very little understanding that working from home is equivalent to working at office and this could adversely affect productivity.
Telecommuting does have its pros and cons but I believe, it is a phenomenon that is here to stay. The context is always important; and the nature of a job should be thoroughly studied before deciding whether it necessitates working at office or not. Telecommuting is a benefit employees give a lot of value to, and by careful thought, companies can design appropriate compensation packages.