Part of the set-up process should include an inventory of staff talent: a company needs to develop a database system "to catalog [staff] capabilities and equipment" including phone numbers, address, personal email addresses. If suddenly a key telecommuter is unavailable for any reason, alert organizations have "hordes of unofficial 'guerilla' teleworkers" that can step in remotely as needed. Hewlett-Packard (HP) for example has set up a "teleworker-tracking" database; this allows HP to use competent substitutes on a moment's notice, helping HP to "leverage the competitive Internet access rates for the home office." The HP system also provides flexibility to existing staff; indeed, 70% of HP's workforce in the U.S. has the training and ability to work remotely and about 10,000 HP employees "have given up dedicated office space entirely" (WorldatWork.org).
Business Plan: Building Community in the Virtual Workplace.
Although clearly there are economic and production positives with teleworkers, there are problems that need to be addressed prior to setting up a telecommuting system. Jennifer L. Carpenter's essay "Building Community in the Virtual Workplace" points out, "Social interaction is an important component of all work arrangements" (Carpenter, 1998). And yet with a virtual workplace, a sense of isolation can creep in. "Nowhere are the social challenges of the Internet so pronounced as in the virtual workplace" (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu) Carpenter explains. Online interaction will never replace "face-to-face contact," Carpenter writes, adding that many potential telecommuters fear isolation because they have always seen the workplace as a venue for social interaction.
Carpenter asserts that the social barriers that now exist with telework "must come down"; companies need to develop online chat rooms and "virtual water coolers" so teleworkers can "build the same types of interpersonal connections via Internet that they do in person" (Carpenter). She also recommends that managers should be responsible for getting to know their teleworkers "socially before they start working." Carpenter insists that some managers should be assigned "to supervise only remote workers" because those managers who have both virtual and in-house staff will more than likely "give more attention to those in the office."
Writing in Human Relations, Timothy Golden points to another potential problem that can arise in virtual workplace situations. Inevitably there are people still working in the home office, and those non-teleworkers are in some ways negatively impacted by the absence of teleworkers. For one thing, non-teleworkers are at risk of having "decreased flexibility in conducting their work activities, since greater restrictions are placed upon them when coordinating and adjusting" their unique tasks and schedules (Golden, 2007, p. 1643-44).
To wit, on-site workers must alter schedules to be available when teleworkers come in to the office; also, they must "hold off on sensitive or complex discussions until face-to-face discussions can be held" (Golden, p. 1644). Beyond that, telework dynamics are likely to "change the scope and amount of workload experienced" by the staff that remains in the office; indeed, the on-site workers may well have to "assume additional responsibilities which might otherwise be handled by a teleworker," but due to the teleworker's absence, fall into the hands of those present in the office (Golden, p. 1644).
Golden brings up the point that because in-house employees (non-teleworkers) do not as a rule enjoy the freedom and flexibility of teleworkers, some edginess and jealousy may well result. "It is likely that decreased co-worker satisfaction will be associated with higher turnover intentions," Golden explains (p. 1649).
Business Plan: Diversity -- Which Employees are Best Candidates for Telework?
Auxillium West, nationally known for human resources software, explains that because of the diversity of employees a thoughtfully prepared survey should be used to sample the "organizational climate" and the "attitudes" of employees toward the notion of telework. "Carefully designed questionnaires provide personal comments about the overall support" for telecommuting and will bring out concerns "about potential drawbacks" (Auxillium). A pilot study may be necessary to determine how telecommuting will be received by certain personalities. No matter what ethnicity or nationality -- or pay grade -- the candidates are, they should be screened to be sure they exhibit the following (www.auxillium.com): self-motivation; above average organizational and "time management" skills; the ability to work with a "minimum of supervision"; and a true excitement for the opportunity to telecommute.
Moreover, candidates (male, female, older and younger, and of any nationality or ethnicity) for telework should be seeking "a non-managerial career track," should possess solid software and hardware skills and knowledge, should "draw professional satisfaction from the end product as opposed to the process" (Auxillium). On the other hand the following employee types generally will not make good telework candidates (Auxillium): those who need face-to-face relationships every day; those who operate machinery; those who require "extensive training or supervision" (and these may be people for whom English is a second language or those who recently immigrated and rely on hands-on supervision); and those who need a "large amount of reassurance and positive reinforcement" (Auxillium).
Moreover, managers must learn to manage "by results" rather than by "observation of an employee at work, and the entire company needs to be oriented vis-a-vis the telework program so company goals and objects are clearly spelled out (Auxillium). All employees need to understand the criteria that went into the selection of those who will telework from a distance so everyone is on the same page in that regard. "Perceptions of injustice may be especially strong among co-workers of teleworkers," Golden reminds, "considering the decreased flexibility and [potential] increased workload implications" that were referenced earlier (Golden, p. 1658). Some research has shown that there is "…higher work-family conflict" for teleworkers and that there can be a "backlash from co-workers" in the office (Van Dyne, et al., 2007).
Employer Rationales for Launching Telework (Data Courtesy of MITE)
Rationale (employers could identify multiple responses)
Respond to specific employee needs
Recruit of retain valuable employee(s)
Increase productivity and/or customer service
Reduce overall operations or occupancy costs
Need to work with other remote teams
Comply with ADA; increase workforce diversity
Respond to emergency coverage or disaster recovery
Respond to regional trip reduction requirements
Conclusion - Recommendation
The trend is widespread and the results are mostly positive: Telecommuting is the streamlined, positive model for businesses in American in the new millennium. The many positive aspects (savings, profitability, employee satisfaction, efficiency, etc.) of telecommuting make it a highly desirable strategy for many companies, including Burgess Realty & Title Company. Assuming that the planning is detailed and exhaustive, that experts in the field of telework are consulted, and that the entire workforce is brought up-to-date on the strategies being instituted, the telework idea does work well, it brings a better bottom line, and is highly recommended.
Auxillium West. (2009). Establishing a Corporate Telecommuting Program. Retrieved June 20, 2009, from http://www.auxillium.com/telecomu.shtm.
Carpenter, Jennifer L. (1998). Building Community in the Virtual Workplace. Harvard University Law School. Retrieved June 19, 2009, from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/fallsem98/final_papers/Carpenter.html.
Golden, Timothy. (2007). Co-Workers who telework and the impact on those in the office:
Understanding the implications of virtual work for co-worker satisfaction and turnover
Intentions. Human Relations, vol. 60, 1641-1663.
Midwest Institute for Telecommuting Education. (2008). General Questions about Telework.
Retrieved June 18, 2009, from http://www.mite.org/FAQ/faqgenl/faqgenl.html.
Rhodes, Marcia. (2009). Telework Revs Up as More Employers Offer Work Flexibility.
World At Work, Retrieved June 18, 2009, from http://www.worldatwork.org.