Okay, Telework is Good- But Good for Whom?
Telework may be here to stay, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to categorize. Everyone knows employees like the flexibility- but is it a boon for the organization, or just a giveaway?
On June 7, 2011 all federal agencies will need to comply with Public Law 111-292 Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, requiring the establishment of telework policies and procedures for all employees. But what should your expectation be? The acceptance of location-flexible arrangements has been growing for years and has only gotten stronger since we examined it last year. Is this a gift you’re giving the troops, or an engine that helps drive productivity and reduce costs?
Here’s the debate.
|Save on real estate.
When you stroll through your workplace, does every desk and office have a person in it? Ours neither. Freeing people from their one-on-one link to a piece of territory can add flexibility to one of your most costly inputs.
|Don’t underestimate the tech expense.
You’ve reduced your physical footprint by letting people work remotely. How much did you spend on hardware, software and network architecture to make that possible? The cost to obtain and maintain flexibility technology may rival the savings in real estate.
|If you employ it, set it free.
It’s prima facie that people are happier with more flexibility. Typically, they also face less commuting time, less stress with work-life balance and fewer constraints on when work begins and ends. Studies show teleworkers may actually put in more hours each week.
|Money saved isn’t always money applied.
Your real estate people have seen this before: A cutback in their allotment is justified because it will free up money for new-age workplace efficiencies. The money comes out of their budget, but instead of funding telework nirvana it somehow melts into the general ledger.
|It’s expected of you.
You don’t have to outrun the grizzly – you just have to outrun your hiking companions. Similarly, it doesn’t take an entire industry to make telework standard – it only takes one company. The one with whom you’re competing to attract talent.
|Keep your employees closest.
If you work in a public-sector arena, it’s likely your people handle sensitive information. The same goes with law firms, health practices and many other private-sector organizations. Does telework align with your security responsibilities?
|Telework frees more than employees.
If they’re not tied to their desks, you’re not tied to their ZIP codes, either. Which means that a telework-enabled company can use geographical arbitrage to hire talent where it’s most cost-effective.
|You may become less special.
Do you rely on location – family-friendly suburb, vibrant city, extreme outdoor hotspot – as part of your talent lure? Not anymore, if people can join your team while living anywhere they like.
National Managing Director, Human Capital, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Telework is valuable – and it’s more than a yes or no decision.
Flexible work opportunities have the potential to bring value to most organizations. But like any other business tool, flexibility isn’t a guaranteed net-plus. You have to use it right – and “right” won’t look exactly the same from one company to the next.
One important differentiator is who gets to use telework. It’s easy to offer that option to senior, desk-based executives and then check the “we offer telework” box. It’s less simple, but perhaps as rewarding, to find opportunities for others. At one major tech company I know, administrative assistants don’t sit next to the executives they support. Instead, they have their own work area and use webcams a lot. That’s one form of workplace flexibility. I can even imagine adding flexibility to a physical assembly line – a worker can’t build cars or toasters from home, but his or her employer could allow one day every other week to attend to paperwork and other non-manual tasks.
Applied correctly, telework can produce not only savings in real estate, but also flexibility in its use. When work space is configured around communities and shared purposes, there’s generally less energy use and more productivity than when everyone has a personal cell in the hive. Telework also has obvious, if hard to quantify, benefits in employee satisfaction and retention.
It doesn’t come without tradeoffs, however. Few workplace cultures can do entirely without personal connections and interaction. I’m a big fan of telecommuting, but not at all a fan of having everyone do it all the time. Companies who implement flexibility should also reexamine the subtle ways in which “face time” and “looking busy” contribute to employee evaluations and retention. Applying old standards to a new system may breed unfairness.
Director, Technology Strategy and Architecture, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Why is it possible to free people from their desks more than it used to be? Technology. That costs money up front and can/may also expose you to unpredictable trends. Right now, the technology at the heart of flexible work arrangements is also the most volatile: tablet computers. A year after the iPad, the market is in a shakeout phase with respect to form, price and most importantly, operating systems.
That’s why I’m advising a wait-and-see attitude toward major commitments to mobile technology, even though I agree the benefit of workplace flexibility is a well-settled argument. On the hardware side, there’s no first-mover advantage right now.
Once the tablet market stabilizes, perhaps in 12 months, companies will have the solid information they need to begin making educated decisions about telework technology. It will likely be a complex, nuanced process then. It could be a gamble now.
Director, Capital and Real Estate Transformations, Strategy and Operations, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Telework can definitely be a value driver, but only if you’re willing to make other corresponding changes that put you in a position to reap the benefits.
Start with realizing that telework is more than just letting people work from home. It’s empowering them to be active and productive wherever they are. If you free your people from offices but keep paying for the office space, you aren’t saving. Follow up the workplace freedom with new physical setups like hoteling, project-based collaborative space and flexible space. In a traditional setup, a company pays for about 1.1 desk spots per person. After making some of these changes, my own location has 0.8 seats per person – a 30 percent reduction.
Rethinking your real estate strategy can turn the potential benefit of telework into a measurable net savings. The trouble is that real estate changes can take longer than and be a little harder to implement than work rule changes. You need to move everyone beyond the traditional insistence on the perk of an assigned personal space. There will be initial costs, such as the need to physically restructure your space or the need to break a lease early. And unlike a telework policy itself, real estate changes are typically/generally harder to undo. However, the benefits of significant cost reductions and improved operational efficiencies can make these changes well worth the effort.
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