Your Workforce - Telecommuting Gets a Bad Rap

Given today’s affordable laptops, sophisticated enterprise networks and widely available home broadband, shouldn’t working from the office have become old-fashioned by now?

It turns out most U.S. workers (70 percent) still commute to work every day, while just 2 percent telecommute full-time, according to the 2006 National Technology Readiness survey. The U.S. share of telecommuters would grow to 25 percent if it were practiced by everyone who had the option to telecommute and had the kind of job amenable to telecommuting, and this would save $3.9 billion per year in fuel costs, the survey says.

Of course, this means not everyone who has the capability and desire to telecommute does so. The most obvious reason: Senior management at many organizations still doesn’t encourage or even allow the practice.

A recent survey of U.S. government managers (conducted by Telework Exchange and the Federal Managers Association) found that only 35 percent believe their agencies support telecommuting, despite the fact that Congress passed a law in 2000 requiring that federal agencies offer it.

In addition, a Korn/Ferry International survey revealed that 61 percent of executives think that telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers when compared with employees who work in the traditional office setting. In other words, too much telecommuting can be a career killer.

Paradoxically, the majority (a whopping 78 percent) of respondents said that telecommuters are either as productive as or more productive than those who work in offices.

Why is telecommuting getting a bad rap? CIOs don’t even want to discuss it on the record. “I’m ‘old school,’ and I suppose I really prefer environments where the employee base is visible, the energy level can be felt and the ideas can be heard flowing around the office,” says the senior vice president of IT at a midsize hospitality and resort lodging company, who didn’t want to be identified.

At the crux of the issue, he asserts, are trust and productivity. “Managers have to trust the telecommuter’s work ethic and must have a measurable approach to productivity. Employees have to recognize [the manager’s needs], and demonstrate their productivity even more so when remote and stay engaged with the rest of the hive.”

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