Canadian IT execs embrace telecommuting

More IT personnel are telecommuting, thanks to wireless technologies and Internet applications that make it easier to work outside the office, according to a study by Robert Half Technology.

Telecommuting is becoming more commonplace among IT professionals, and more than half of CIOs surveyed said their companies’ IT workforce is telecommuting at a rate that is the same or higher than five years ago. Another 35 per cent said they do not allow their IT workforce to telecommute.

The poll includes responses from more than 270 CIOs in a random sample of Canadian companies with 100 or more employees.

“We definitely see a lot more telecommuting,” said Igor Abramovitch, division director of consulting services with Robert Half Technology.

There are a few reasons for this, he said, including a more competitive marketplace, where telecommuting is a perk offered when hiring or retaining talent.

The other big factor is technology itself. “With wireless, Wi-Fi, Web applications, PDAs, BlackBerrys, technology makes it much easier to telecommute from anywhere,” he said.

When asked how telecommuting affects the workforce, 36 per cent of those polled said it resulted in increased productivity, specifically by cutting down on commute time. Thirty-four per cent said it improved employee morale and retention, while 11 per cent said it saved money by requiring less office space.

The survey also addressed common concerns about telecommuting, including lack of face-to-face contact, less oversight by managers and security concerns. While 38 per cent agreed that less face-to-face contact downgrades quality of work, 52 per cent disagreed.

When it came to security concerns, 27 per cent agreed those concerns were viable, while 64 per cent disagreed (these security risks result from the need to access corporate networks, systems and intellectual property offsite).

Telecommuting is mostly suited for positions where the individual works relatively autonomously, said Abramovitch. A manager or customer service representative probably wouldn’t find it as beneficial, he added, because they have to deal with clients or customers or have to be on site.

Organizations should set up telework procedures or protocols where the employee checks in and provides an update on, for example, the status of a project.

In a lot of cases, IT personnel have to be where the equipment is, said Darin Stahl, research lead with Info-Tech Research Group. “While there is a lot of IT work that goes on from home, any of those support functions that are core to keeping the business running, their skew is tilted toward physical presence in the office versus home.”

For any other functions outside of that core, an employer should have a telework policy that clearly lays out expected behaviours and the rules of engagement, he said. Because, while there are a number of social norms that are in place for working inside of an office, working from home presents a different set of issues.

Telecommuting is still viewed by some as an employee benefit, but increasingly Info-Tech sees that organizations are looking to improve productivity and reduce their footprint in terms of office space through telecommuting. Within large organizations, these polices are already in place – even if they don’t exist formally across the organization, they exist divisionally or departmentally. “We’re seeing a lot of uptake in small enterprises,” said Stahl, adding that the technology required to support telecommuting has fallen in price.

While organizations can pilot the technology, the issues around telecommuting are beyond the technology – they’re about people and processes. There’s no way to pilot people, said Stahl, so business leaders have to sit down and take a hard look at those processes.

“Just because somebody’s in a role doesn’t mean they have all the characteristics required to work from home,” he said, “so you’ve got to go through and red circle those people who you think are not going to be able to make this jump.”

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