Telecommuting: Absent Workers, Productive Office?

December 11, 20208:03 am2375 views

Advances in technology such as cloud computing, collaborative online office suites (e.g. Google Docs), video-conferencing, smartphones and tablets have led to work becoming less office-centric. With enhanced mobility and connectivity, be it through social media, video-conferencing or instant messaging, workers are now more mobile than ever.

The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimated the number of mobile workers in the global workforce at 30 percent, or 1.3 billion people in 2013. Mobile worker population will grow at a steady rate over the next four years, increasing from 78.5 million in 2020 to 93.5 million mobile workers in 2024. Given the organisational benefits of flexplacing, particularly in terms of cost-efficiency and cost savings, there is a lack of widespread adoption, often due to traditional management mindsets.

The traditional management perspective maintains that unless workers are desk-bound, they are unproductive and need monitoring. However multiple studies in worker productivity prove that people work best when they have agility and opportunities to collaborate.

Why Flexplacing?

With the emergence of coworking spaces and service offices, cloud storage and cloud computing, enabling workplace flexibility allows for offices, workers and operations to be distributed over a larger region, while cutting rental costs. For staff, it enables a better work-life balance, improving morale and job satisfaction. Practical benefits to flexplacing include:

  • productivity improvements
  • costs savings on office space
  • enhanced recruitment and retention
  • customer proximity
  • reduction/elimination of commutes

Flexplacing is one of five standard types of flexible working: flextime (altering the daily start/finish time); compressed schedules; flex place (routinely working away from assigned office, working from home or a remote location); reduced hours and job sharing.

See also: Business Should Offer Flexible Working to Achieve Greater D&I 

Downsides?

Some downsides of flexplacing and telecommuting are a lack of social contact, which can negatively impact the psychological health of staff and team dynamics in a firm.  Telecommuting can be more productive, because it allows workers to focus on their projects without the distractions of social interaction.

But  co-workers gossiping, brainstorming and information-sharing can build relationships. Informal after-hours gatherings are also important to developing the organisational culture and overall cohesion of the workforce.

Security is also a consideration. If network links between staff and companies are insecure, hackers might be able to retrieve confidential corporate information. Virtual private networks (VPNs) mitigate this to a degree, but staff accessing confidential information without the proper protocols and security can compromise the operational integrity of a company.

Implementing flexplace arrangements

There are certain principles and factors to consider when implementing flexplace arrangements. A firm needs to understand in principle that flexibility is a management tool designed to facilitate productivity and performance, not a perk or benefit for employees.

Flexibility can be used across multiple job roles and levels, with the reasons for employees desiring flexibility irrelevant unless there are legal matters to consider.

Here’s what to do when establishing a business case for flexplacing:

  • Involve key stakeholders (e.g. corporate real estate, facilities management, HR, IT department, etc.)
  • Secure the support of executive management.
  • Develop a clear communications plan.
  • Define policies and practices for flexible placements
  • Invest in flexible and robust technology infrastructure (e.g. Ubuntu servers) to connect workers

Flexible placements do not work for all types of jobs or individuals. Supervisors need to adapt to new management techniques, how to problem-solve and look for win-win, mutually beneficial solutions. They also have to be comfortable with the discretion they have, including when and how to say refuse requests. Conflict resolution mechanisms also need to be available, in order to manage changes that flexibility brings.

For large enterprises, a traditional office will always be relevant and necessary. Some tasks require the physical presence of workers. But there are clear business benefits to adopting flexible work practices, especially flexplacing, as firms seek to optimise their business operating systems.

Read also: Here’s 12 Fast-growing Jobs that Also Come with Flexible Work Options 

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