By Joaquim P. Menezes -
An interesting - and thought-provoking - session at Showcase Ontario last week focused on the whole issue of alternative work styles.
One of the presenters was Scott Fleming, founder and CEO of Calgary-based Teletrips that helps organizations – both in the public and private sector – manage and track corporate telework programs.
To this end the company offers Web-based software – also dubbed Teletrips – that helps employees participating in these programs measure key metrics such as time saved, as well as the environmental impact of their not commuting each day to work.
Fleming said the proven benefit of telework – to the environment, to companies supporting such programs, as well as to staff members participating in them – are incontrovertible, and very well documented.
North American firms in every sector are realizing this, and that's why the population of telecommuters is growing steadily.
According to Fleming, there are 20 million North Americans who work at home once a day each week, and some high profile analyst firms have predicted that number will spiral to around 100 million over the next five years.
But all the evidence that telecommuting makes sense notwithstanding, there are still managers out there who are viscerally and vociferously opposed to the idea of their team members working from home.
That's not to say telework is the best option in all situations.
Admittedly, there are jobs and roles where coming in every day to a fixed place of work just makes sense.
But even when this is manifestly not so – and there is every reason to believe telework would make employees far more productive – there are managers who oppose this practice for no other reason than they feel uncomfortable when their reports aren't physically in the office.
This then becomes a control issue; in my view, a psychological quirk that the manager needs to resolve, and has nothing to do with what's best for the company, the environment or the employee.
And such an attitude is more common than you think.
Mark Lang, HR Business Partner at TELUS (who also spoke at Showcase) shared an interesting real-life anecdote of the "control syndrome" in action.
Lang, for more than a year, has been studying, designing and mustering support for non-traditional work options – such as mobile working and teleworking – within Telus. Many crucial elements of the telecom firm's Workstyles Program are the acknowledged outcome of his efforts.
He recalled how in February this year, when Telus' alternative work styles pilot started receiving media attention, he got a phone call from one of the managers who was all hot and bothered.
"What do you think you're doing?", the manager asked Lang angrily. "Two of my team members work from home. I'm trying to get them come into the office, and here you are promoting telework. Why?"
Lang said he ran through the whole spiel about the environmental benefits, time savings, and productivity gains from telecommuting but the manager was adamant.
"I need these team members here in the office."
"Help me understand why," Lang said.
The latter's response was that when his reports worked from home, he never really knew whether they were actually working or out walking the dog, looking after the kids etc.
Here's how the remainder of the discourse played out:
Lang: "Do you set work objectives for your people?"
Lang: Are these stretch objectives?
Lang: So then how are they doing?
Manager: O their performance is fine. I just know that they're not working.
Such an attitude may seem quite facetious and utterly irrational, but it's perhaps one of the greatest obstacles that champions of telecommuting within organizations have to confront.
The perspective that "results count"...that if you deliver what and when you're expected to, it really doesn't matter whether you were out walking your dog at a particular time - during the day - isn't really that common.
Thankfully, there are organizations that have already declared this as a goal, and have implemented it as part of their corporate work ethic.
For instance, Best Buy has rolled out a Results Oriented Work Environment or ROWE program.
The intiative seeks to demolish decades-old dogma that equates physical presence at the office with productivity. The new goal is to judge performance on output instead of hours.
And the pay off since the program was implemented has been dramatic.
According to some reports, productivity in Best Buy is up an average 35 per cent in departments that have switched to ROWE.
Employee satisfaction – which is a barometer for retention – is way up too, according to the Gallup Organization, which audits corporate cultures.