The recent snowstorm in the northeast has led the U.S. Government to acknowledge the benefits of employees working remotely. TechRepublic reports that "according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, about a third of the D.C. area employees at their office and the General Services Administration logged on to their agencies' mainframe computers, most likely from their homes. That's productivity that wouldn't have happened without teleworking capabilities."
Teleworkers can save the federal government a lot of money, and can do the same for a lot of businesses. So what is everyone so afraid of? In 2008, PCWorld published an article entitled "17 Telecommuting Disadvantages" which includes, among others, the following reasons:
- Technology gets in the way. You can't count on coworkers or clients to have the PC skills or hardware necessary to set up a remote meeting with screen sharing, webcams, etc. A lot of time is wasted sorting out those issues. Nor is this problem limited to others: When your own Internet access gets flaky, you can't get your work done.
- You miss the "meeting after the meeting." You see it all the time when you're in the office: The meeting is supposedly over, everyone says their farewells, and the folks in the office hang up the speakerphone. Almost immediately, the conversation continues around the conference table in a far less inhibited way than it did when everyone was involved.
- The lack of immediate, nonverbal feedback.When you attend a meeting in person, you can see when people look uncomfortable at an idea you propose, or when their body language indicates they are offended by a joke you tell. It's hard to fix social or team problems that you can't see.
Obviously, as with everything, telework has both advantages and disadvantages. The question is — which side wins out?
I think there are those people who have personalities that lend themselves very well to telecommuting. Other people are less blessed in this arena. I'm one of the latter. I find it difficult enough to manage people I'm sitting next to, much less people I rarely see. It also depends on the kind work you do.
When work is global, multicultural, multitimezone and multicompany, special project management challenges arise. If you work in such an environment, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org because I'm researching data for a book on this topic right now.
Curt Finch is the founder & CEO of a resource management software company.