|PATHWAYS - Volume 8, Number 3 - August, 1996
Focus: The Changing Technological Worksite
|Organization||Work groups||Business Justification for Telecommuting|
|Consultants||More responsive to client needs; better client contact; employee convenience|
|HealthNet||Training / documentation
|Reduced office space requirements; employee convenience|
|IBM||Sales force||Increased and improved-quality customer contact; greater responsiveness to customer needs; reduced office space requirements|
|Better support of work which can only be performed at the client site|
|Hewlett-Packard||Software developers||Reduced office space; employee convenience|
|Sales force, customer service, maintenance||More responsive to client needs; better client contact; reduced office space; employee convenience|
|Prudential Insurance||Claims processors, adjusters||Reduced office space; opportunity to hire the handicapped; employee convenience|
|Xerox||Sales force, customer service, maintenance||Increased and improved-quality customer contact; greater responsiveness to customer needs; reduced office space requirements|
For every potential benefit, of course, come certain trade-offs. For example, If salespeople needn't report daily to the central office, they should have more time and opportunity to meet with customers and prospects. But they won't be instantly available for unscheduled office management sessions. Similarly, reductions in the need for office space will only represent true cost savings for an organization if the space can be removed from overhead costs. If it is owned real estate, can it be leased to others? If rented, what long-term lease arrangements apply?
Critical to the success of an organization's telecommuting business strategy are the potential effects on the organization and its employees. For some job positions, working away from the office or plant makes no business sense. Physical security personnel, for example, need to be on premises. For other positions, telecommuting makes eminent sense. It is important for organizations to select the jobs, work groups, and departments where telecommuting will benefit the organization.
The organization that decides to try telecommuting also faces many policy and implementation decisions.
These issues (and many others) will need to be answered on a case-by-case basis. There is no one best way for all organizations.
Clients are likely to welcome telecommuting representatives if they perceive real benefits to their organization. For example, if you are a vendor providing a product or service, your client will be looking for reduced response time. Demonstrate this and your client is likely to accept your telecommuting representative or service person with open arms.
Depending upon how an organization's strategy is presented and implemented,
telecommuting may meet with overwhelming support or insurmountable resistance. Recognizing
and accommodating both human factors and performance support factors is critical to the
successful implementation of telecommuting:
Addressing the Human Factors
Some employees welcome telecommuting, others are threatened, and a few simply can't or won't perform without direct supervision. On a case-by-case basis, management must address questions such as these:
Management also needs to have clear answers to the telecommuting employee's questions and concerns. They should anticipate issues such as these:
Home Office Telecommuting Support
The following table lists some of the resources typically needed in the home office. Many organizations help the employee working at home by absorbing costs for some or all of the resources listed. This may benefit both parties. For example, if the organization provides telecommuting workers a portable "laptop" for use both at home and when in the office, there is no need to provide redundant systems at both locations.
Home Office Equipment List
|Note: The requirements shown here are typical, but will change depending on the home worker's job tasks.|
Virtual Office Telecommuting Support
Management needs to select organizational units and functions that make sense. The most typical are sales, marketing, consulting, and customer support functions, but others may be appropriate in your organization.
Critical to the success of the virtual office is a powerful, flexible, easy-to-use telecommunications facility. Communications processes and business software for use on the road ought to look as much like, and perform as much like those in the central office as possible.
Equipment portability is also key. Once the novelty wears off, lugging a lap-top, a portable printer, a cellular phone, various power supplies, and spare batteries (not to mention luggage and briefcase) in and out of taxies, and off and on planes becomes a drag literally. Many organizations have found providing regional satellite offices preferable to asking the telecommuter to transport too much equipment. Satellite facilities typically provide work carrels, business phones, LAN and WAN network hook-ups, individual printers (or connections to shared printers), and other equipment found in the usual office. Most satellite facilities also provide conference rooms and lockers that can be permanently assigned or loaned out for a period of time. In many cities there now are businesses that provide similar lease facilities on an hourly or daily rental basis for telecommuters whose organizations are not large enough to afford their own satellite facilities.
For telecommuting to work, organizations need to give careful thought to documentation, training, and job support for their telecommuters. Too often organizations have expected their people to become telecommuters overnight, without providing adequate support. They have expected people who are accustomed to having office support staff suddenly to begin "doing their own thing." They have provided their telecommuters with a powerful suite of software tools, only to find after six months that many still hadn't learned to use the basic tools, let alone how to transfer files over a variety of data communications links.
Training is critical. When an employee is working out of a hotel room in Philadelphia, he can't just whip down the hallway to Sue's office to review that trick she showed him for automatically aligning spreadsheet columns. Sue is 2000 miles away. Still, it makes little sense to have people work out of home or virtual offices, yet assemble at central sites for training. Here are a few suggestions for training and support:
Technology is changing our conception of the workplace. But the human
factor is still critical to success. It still takes competent people in well-structured
work environments to make organizations succeed.
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