by Thomas Wailgum

Memo to Execs re: Telecommuting — Handle with Extreme Care!

Jun 07, 20064 mins

Many news outlets are reporting that HP is pulling back on some of the telecommuting perks for its IT staffers, who are led by CIO luminary Randy Mott. “The IT organization has made a specific business decision to provide guidelines that locate more team members together in several core sites to facilitate face-to-face interaction and increase team effectiveness,” HP spokeswoman Emma Wischhusen said in a written response to questions from Computerworld. The number of employees affected by the change isn’t being disclosed, but it’s “a small fraction” of HP’s 150,000-employee workforce, she said in the CW article.

As you can see, the quotes seemed fairly canned, and there was no word from Mott, which generally means that HP is hoping this will go away because it’s known that the company has a solid employee-work-life-balance reputation. The article went on to say that HP will still continue to offer flexible work arrangements “where appropriate.”

I don’t want to make too big a deal out of nothing, but let’s give it a shot.

My advice to companies like HP is that they need to be extremely cautious if they decide to take away some of their flexible work arrangements. It’s a wonderful thing that many companies and their HR departments have woken up to the fact that technology now provides workers more efficient and more sensible ways of doing their jobs — from any place, at any time, over any connection.

I work from my home, and I’m thankful everyday that the management realizes that not only am I a happier camper, but my work-life balance is exactly where I want it to be. In fact, without a shred of scientific evidence or hard data, I’m willing to go on the record and state that I’m more productive now that I work out of my home office than I was back in the corporate office. Right now, I’m listening to jazz music as I’m typing this up, looking out the window at some birds, in my jeans and a T-shirt (no socks, naturally), and I couldn’t be happier or more excited about my job.

But if suddenly my boss told me that it was all going to end … well, I wouldn’t be too thrilled, to put it mildly. Once you set employees’ expectations about how and where they will work, and if they continue to do a good job and you want to change that all the sudden, then there better be a really, really, really good reason for that.

I have to imagine that those affected workers at HP right now are having some most unpleasant thoughts if it hasn’t been made clear to them why everything has changed. Most likely, this potentially distressing news coming out of HP is a manifestation of some bigger change that’s taking place and not a rash Randy Mott decision meant to upset his staffers.

In a shade of contrast, however, I’d like to single out the financial services company Capital One, which has been doing some real forward-thinking on its employee work environments. I was talking to the HR chief, Matt Schuyler, a little while ago, and he had many interesting things to say about Capital One’s “Future of Work” environment. One thing in particular he said has stuck with me, and I’ll leave you with it.

“Having people move to where you have buildings, that’s the past,” he said. “In the future, you’re not going to be able to require workers to move [to a certain building or location].”

What do you think? Is he ahead of his time, or has the time finally come for this type of future work? Let me know your thoughts.