Changing Trends: Rethinking Telecommuting?
Decades ago, everyone reported for work at the same time every day and basically stayed in the office until around 5 p.m. With the popular advancement and ubiquity of smartphones, PDAs, Skype, fax machines, teleconferencing, "go to meeting" programs, and other mechanisms that connect people off-site, the old concept of having to work from HQ has lost its cachet.
Many employees have found they could perform their jobs from home in their pajamas, at the beach in a bathing suit, or in a coffee shop in casualwear. They could also complete their work on planes, trains or automobiles--indeed, anywhere they could get connected with the internet if necessary.
This flexibility has resulted in many positives. However, just because an employee has the tools to work in this manner does not mean employers should grant them permission to do so. There are also downsides to not interacting with colleagues. While they may be able to Skype or video-conference with colleagues or clients, many people report some level of dissatisfaction with electronic communications.
This is why the old work-anywhere telecommuting trend seems to be in decline, and more companies are requiring their employees to be on-site to increase their face-to-face interaction. In quite a few organizations, these get-togethers, both formal and informal, are occurring during "core times" similar to the core hours of the "old days" when no matter what time an employee started or stopped working, everyone had to be in the office during prescribed hours.
This core-time mandate ensures that communication and contact between everyone flows more easily and efficiently, and reduces the multitude of messages left on voice mail or e-mail.
Returning to a "core time" work period also resolves a number of problems. Among them:
- It reintroduces the real person-to-person, human factor contact that is now missing in our electronic communication age. Many employees express that they miss personal interaction with their colleagues.
- Staff can get to know one another better. They find that their co-workers are not faceless and actually have personalities.
- Many electronic communications are not clear. Often images and voices from cyberspace are fuzzy or delayed and also out of synch. This makes the communication message more difficult to understand, especially if you are dealing with situations where English is not the first language of all involved.
- Images, graphs and words on pages and charts transmitted electronically are sometimes difficult to see or decipher.
- Impromptu collaboration at the water cooler or coffee pot simply does not occur if employees have to dial up a colleague to communicate.
- Sitting with someone over coffee or during lunch can often turn into an important discussion about work-related issues. This would not occur as easily or as often electronically, because employees probably would not simply contact a distant co-worker just to chat, unless that other person was already a good friend.
- Establishing a work relationship with someone from the office by interacting with them during the day, at lunch or after work increases the ease and comfort people feel with each other and often leads to an easier and more positive working relationship. This cannot be created electronically.
The rush to a highly flexible scheduling system for employee hours has revealed a number of disadvantages. That’s why it’s important for a manager to carefully weigh the pros and cons of employing all the powerful tools of modern gadgetry. With some companies or industries, a manager may have to go "back to the future" and make some adjustments.
For reprints and licensing questions, click here.