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It seems that with all the communication technology we have today, working from a home office should be a much more feasible option for many people.

Think about it: when you're at the office, how often do you make actual physical contact with people? Hands are shaken occasionally, but with day to day associates, its super rare.

So my question is why can't people work from home 80% of the time if they have an appropriately equipped and connected home office?

I envision a hardware/software suite that handles video conferencing, file sharing, real time editing, instant messaging, ‘door knocking’, etc... Basically, any action, solo or collaborative, performed at the office translated to an 'e' equivalent.

I know the technology exists (web cam, multiple screens, screen sharing, tablet writing, the bandwidth…), but I don't know of any companies that have orchestrated these technologies to be used for a “business of home based employees”. (Air tran has created something cool for their customer service, but its custom in-house developed.)

This is something I've talked to many people about, and I haven't found a typical office interaction that can't be accommodated with technology. There will be some adaptation required and getting people together on various occasions is important. I’m not advocating ZERO real face-to-face interaction. But I believe having the typical '5 days in the office, 40 hours per week' routine is very outdated.

I watched 'An Inconvenient Truth' the other night and its inspired me to pursue this possibility further. I think there are MANY benefits (individually and environmentally) and the risks can be mitigated with some good forethought, training and consideration.

What do you think? Does anyone know of a company who's doing or working on this? Anyone feeling entrepreneurial? :wink:

Your insights are appreciated!

-Alex

bflynn's picture

At one time, I worked for a company that sold complete remote working (telecommute) solutions. The answer to why everyone can't work from home is multipart. I might be missing a major one, but what I remember is:

1) Not every job is suitable for it. Some jobs, such as tech support, are very well suited. Others (assembly line worker) are not.
2) Not every person is suited to working from home. It takes a certain personality type to thrive on working this way. My experience says that its less than 25% of the people are more productive at home than in the office.
3) Many managers don't know how to manage the right way (by outcome, not effort) to permit their people to work at home. They cannot release the control factor of the clock.

There are also at least a dozen reasons for people to work from home, but that's a different question. I don't have the data anymore, but when we multiplied all the factors (%jobs suitable * %people suitable * %managers willing), the number was very close to the percentage of people teleworking.

I believe telework is a good idea, but it still has too many factors against it to be mainstream.

As to an entrepreneurial solution, it was attempted during the dot-com boom and I suspect there is still at least one company left. The difficult part was providing concrete value to companies. Ultimately, the company could tell an employee to arrange their own DSL line, purchase furniture, etc and let them try it out. If it didn't work, then the employee came back to work. They didn't need anyone external involved.

If you'd like to do this, Google telework to learn more. Work with your manager to set it up. On average, those employees that succeeded were about 150% more productive, so its very worth trying. I've lost the links now, but there are also job boards somewhere that list nothing but telework jobs if you'd like to go that route.

Brian

trandell's picture

I work for a multi-national Fortune 30 company and we make heavy use of remote work arrangements. Our core communication methods are e-mail, instant message and voice. We barely use video conferencing and very little collaborative tooling. Using a simple old school IPSec VPN, we have access to 98% of what we have from our work desks. For us it works great. On any given day we have 25% to 50% of staff working from home and we all feel we are as productive and effective, if not more, as when we are in the office. Face time is important and we make that a priority, to make sure it happens a few times a week.

tplummer's picture

Generally speaking, I think telecommuting is part of the solution. This is due to Gen Y being more computer centric and for the environment. Strangely I saw a report that says shopping online is worse for the environment than actually driving your car to the store and buying it. The electricity and pollution costs of keeping the data centers up and running are larger than the removal of car pollution. Regardless, in maybe 10-20 years most of us will telecommute for at least part of the week. The old guard of baby boomers and many of Gen X can't quite get their brains around this concept yet. But, heck it took several years to stop typing memos and switch to email for most communications.

Tom

trandell's picture

In my experience, the willingness to telecommute is not tied to age, it is tied to technical literacy. The acceptance rate for telecommuting is just as high in our older senior execs as it is in young entry level staff.

Mark's picture

I believe strongly in telecommuting, and also in development - soetimes those are in alignment, sometimes not.

Telecommuting for long periods tends to be DEATH on careers. Organizations are social entities.

Mark

tilmer's picture

I work for a large manufacturing company in the IT department. We have just launched a telecommuting pilot program in IT. A small group of employees will be selected to work 3 days per week at home and 2 days in the office. I manage a group of programmers who can probably do their work just as easily from home as from the office. Some of them are excited about the prospect, but - to my surprise - others are not interested at all. It does take a distinct personality to be successful as a home bound worker. Not everyone is cut out for it. My team is pretty mature professionally and I think they realize that. Right now, I have about 20-25% of them showing some interest in it.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]Telecommuting for long periods tends to be DEATH on careers. Organizations are social entities.[/quote]

We're currently kicking off a project to look at "Working from home but not necessarily at home.", a phrase coined by one of our directors.

Where someone's job is suitable for telecommuting they are given the option. This means not just having facilities at home but also access to serviced offices around the city so rather than having to travel across the city to their base office they can travel a shorter distance (probably walking distance) to a local office (which we may own, rent long term or just rent space in as and when needed). Central offices will only be used for staff that need to be central, for meetings (although if it's more convenient for the attendees there's no reason why they can't use a meeting room in one of the local offices) and hot desking (telecommuting staff will come into central offices two or three days a week so they'll still have access to the 'social' aspects of the organisation).

Stephen

jhack's picture

BLUF: Management is a contact sport. You can't call it in.

Of course, many individual contributor roles can be performed via telecommuting.

As managers, we should focus our time in the office on people, and our time at home on administrative/paperwork and teleconferences with overseas partners/colleagues/customers.

Do one on ones in person whenever possible.

"Never eat lunch alone" is good advice; hard to follow at home.

Full disclosure: I have a brutal commute (three states are involved) and I telecommute part time.

John

dhkramer's picture

Any job that can be done from your house can be done from India or the Phillipines.

If you think you can do your job from home effictively more than 50% of the time, look for another job now.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="dhkramer"]Any job that can be done from your house can be done from India or the Phillipines.

If you think you can do your job from home effictively more than 50% of the time, look for another job now.[/quote]

It depends what the other 50% is.

About 60-70% of my job could probably be done from home, it's thinking, reading and writing type of work. Even if that could be outsourced to the Phillipines or India, they wouldn't be able to get around the fact that the other 30-40% (talking to people, giving presentations, attending other people's presentations, meetings, one-to-one chats &c) has to be face to face.

Stephen

bflynn's picture

[quote="dhkramer"]If you think you can do your job from home effectively more than 50% of the time, look for another job now.[/quote]

Research tells us that some teleworkers [b]are[/b] more effective than office workers because they lose the boundary between work and home. The result is that they work many more hours and produce much more than if they were in a distracting office environment and quit working after 8-10 hours. Whether this is a good thing or not is still questionable.

The percentage of people that can do this is less than 25%. They should not look for other jobs. The other 75%+ of us are less effective at home.

Brian

suedavis's picture

[quote="alexdifiore"]Think about it: when you're at the office, how often do you make actual physical contact with people? Hands are shaken occasionally, but with day to day associates, its super rare.[/quote]

Physical contact isn't what makes co-location important for us -- it's the ability to overhear each other's conversations, collaborate closely, and have impromptu design meetings. I've lead virtual teams before, and they've been extremely successful, but you can't do pair programming remotely with much success. So for us, it's really huge that we're all in the same room.

On the other hand, I've found working in a virtual office environment from home to be much [i]more[/i] productive than working at the same office, but in separate cubes or offices....

dhkramer's picture

[quote="bflynn"]
Research tells us that some teleworkers [b]are[/b] more effective than office workers because they lose the boundary between work and home. The result is that they work many more hours and produce much more than if they were in a distracting office environment and quit working after 8-10 hours. Whether this is a good thing or not is still questionable.

The percentage of people that can do this is less than 25%. They should not look for other jobs. The other 75%+ of us are less effective at home.

Brian[/quote]

I don't think we disagree. It's not that you aren't effective at home, it's that someone overseas can be approximately as effective for a fraction of the cost.

If you have the discipline, just eliminating commute times should increase output per day. But if there isn't added value to you being near your coworkers, then there isn't added value to being in the same state.

I think it is very risky to show your bosses how your function can be outsourced.

jhack's picture

dhkramer is right on the money:

If you can telecommute successfully, your job can be done by anyone anywhere in the world.

So, can you add more value per dollar than someone willing to work for much less? If so, great. If not, you are at risk.

The World is Flat.

John

bflynn's picture

I get there feeling there is still a misunderstanding going on.

The hard core teleworker will wind up working 12-16 hour days. They are putting in the time of two people and they're usually much more efficient. That means they are producing 4-6 times more than other workers, including those offshore. The world isn't that flat. You don't get rid of great workers to replace them with unknowns overseas at 1/3 the price.

Remember though that this is less than 25% of people. If you're not in that 25%, you are right - teleworking can be dangerous to your job.

Brian

tomw's picture

[quote="bflynn"]The hard core teleworker will wind up working 12-16 hour days. They are putting in the time of two people and they're usually much more efficient. That means they are producing 4-6 times more than other workers, including those offshore. [/quote]

I think that's the "extreme worker" that was recently lambasted in the Harvard Business Review as being a bad thing overall. People who work like that destroy their family lives, actually de-motivate their co-workers, and eventually burn out.

It's key to realize, no one, not Superman himself, can work 12 to 16 hours a day and be effective for an extended period of time. Most people can barely go beyond a few days like that. The number of hours put into the job doesn't determine effectiveness.

[quote]The world isn't that flat. You don't get rid of great workers to replace them with unknowns overseas at 1/3 the price [/quote]

Maybe you personally don't, but an awful lot of other people do.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="bflynn"] You don't get rid of great workers to replace them with unknowns overseas at 1/3 the price.[/quote]

Unfortunately experience here in the UK is that you do then, over half the time, 6 to 18 months later you have to bring what ever it was back in house as it turns out that the combination of cultural differences, language barriers and other factors mean that the costs of off shoring far outweigh the higher salaries of hiring locally. Of course by this time the local staff you previously had have mostly got other jobs and/or don't want to work for you again because you've treated them like disposable resources rather than human beings.

I still think that, as I indicated before, the fact that over 50% of your job could be done remotely doesn't mean that it's suitable for off shoring (even without the cultural and other issues), certainly not if you're a knowledge worker. The relationship building, discussions and knowledge gathering that makes the other 50%+ possible needs to be done face to face.

On the other hand just because none of your job could be done remotely doesn't mean that your job couldn't be off shored. Manufacturing is definitely non-remote, yet the bulk of jobs that have moved from the major western economies to Asia (in particular China) have been manufacturing jobs.

Stephen

ccleveland's picture

BLUF: “It’s all about people” being effective.

Outsourcing and off-shoring are not germane to the question of how much telecommunicating can or should be used. The point about “if you can work from home so much then you could be replaced” doesn’t make a case for or against telecommuting. It’s more about looking who else could do your job for less. Everyone should consider this; not just telecommuters.

The question should really be about how managers can make their organizations the most effective. The effectiveness of each individual depends on a lot of factors: the nature of the job, the EQ of the employee, technical capabilities of the company [u]and[/u] employee, physical environment, company culture, organizational structure and setting, etc.

Our company is about to pilot a new program where people will work from home part time and use “hoteling” desks while in the office. This change is response to over-crowding in our current facilities and to limit new buildings.

I’ve heard from my boss that this will be piloted first in our organization because our group is already widely distributed across many locations. My feelings on this are mixed. On one hand, I have a long commute (>1 hour driving) and I’m very comfortable with the technology. On the other hand, even as a HighD/C (7-1-1-5), I prefer to speak to people face-to-face whenever possible. Even the days when I’m in the office, there will be a less of a chance for face-to-face meetings as others will be working from home.

As managers and employees, I think we need to be aware of the challenges, limitations, and benefits of telecommuting. For example, it’s harder to “see” physical behaviors such as playing a game instead of working. Managers have to learn how to look at other behaviors such as on-time delivery and quality of work.

CC

jhack's picture

Folks in China, India, Latvia, etc, are no less willing to work hard than Americans. So even if you're in that 25% (or whatever the number is) you're competing with the 25% in the rest of the world as dedicated as you are.

Overseas isn't unknown anymore. If your sector/company hasn't been flattened yet, it will be. Flat doesn't mean outsourced.

Our company has offices with comparable capabilities in metro NY, Silicon Valley, India, China, Germany and Korea. We move work according to skills, capacity and cost among these teams, and we collaborate a great deal of the time.

We want to compete with a company that thinks overseas is unknown.

The point isn't that telecommuting is bad or that you'll lose your job. Hey, if you're good, you might take a job away from someone in Manila. The point is awareness: if you can telecommute, you can work for anyone anywhere. And someone else, somewhere else, can do your job.

One more point not to lose in all this: managing is by far more effective when it is done in person. It is much easier to give feedback when you're in the same place. Chance encounters provide key tidbits on new marketing programs or who's moving into what new positions.

John

jhack's picture

I've continued thinking about this, as telecommuting is going to grow in importance. Thanks to tilmer for restarting the thread.

bflynn is right: it takes a certain kind of person to succeed at telecommuting. It requires focus and dedication. The office provides structure and a distraction-free zone.

Some jobs, like management, require regular face to face time. Others, like the programming jobs tilmer is concerned about, could be done at home.

tilmer, have you asked your folks why they want to stay at the office? the others, why they want to telecommute? Have you asked what their concerns are? What they think will work well? You might find you can address the issues to make this work for all of them.

Ultimately, you need a means of measuring their performance, not their hours. That's core to successful telecommuting.

There should be one or two days a week when everyone who can be in the office is in the office together. Hold you staff meeting that day. Schedule design sessions, code reviews, etc. Make the time in the office interactive. That will help the team gel.

John

(PS: I'm off my 'world is flat' soapbox now. Thanks for your patient indulgence)

dhkramer's picture

Best Buy is trying to allow all of their HQ employees to work whenever and wherever they want.

How to measure output is the tricky part.

Also, if your best performers aren't there to teach / model / embarrass the so-so performers and the newbies, then the organization will suffer.

I can do my last job from home; I've mastered those skills. My next job, I need to be around people who can help me stumble through the new stuff.

cwcollin's picture

....on collaboration.

I work 100% from home. If my job were replaced by an overseas manager not only would they presumably need to overcome the language and cultural barrier to work with my US colleagues, their working ours would only overlap slightly.

There is still much interaction that takes place in a virtual environment that placing an important party in a different time zone also introduces a real barrier to that interaction.

dhkramer's picture

true to a point.

Most Filipinos and Indians speak english, and can manage to interact successfully here as immigrants.

And many people work odd hours to service their clients. All of the west coast brokers start work at 6 am. And their is a whole culture of night shifters in India now.

jhack's picture

not to mention the tens of millions of people who live in your time zone...

John

Mark's picture

Please don't confuse my comment about the affect of telecommuting on careers with a blanket objection.

I think telecommuting can be a great option. I think it's going to be ever more likely as technology helps.

And, for many, it's not feasible. They need the rigor of a workplace.

And, to ME, the idea of a manager at home when her largest group is at an office that she doesn't go to...WOW.

It's a fluid talent market out there!

Mark

karaikudy's picture

Mark,
I work about 60% from home and rest of the time go to a cubicle to download emails. print documents as well as to catch up with some of the folks as well as help them out(They are not connected to my business Group). The business folks whom I kind of interact / support are 500 Miles away.

I agree that telecommute work from home, deprives some of the benefits like participating in programs like training, development programs as well as more personal face to face interaction. I also miss some of the facility resources like Library/ technical journal etc. Yes as Mark mentioned, it can kind of make you lag in career progression to keep you up to date.

But the other side to it, as I had always put Family as a priority and put work life choice as one of the key factors in determining career growth and benefits, I have accepted things as they are.

About 9 months back, I hired a manager who would report to me and fortunately he is also based in Bangalore, so that helps to practice the One on ones, feedback aspects. I guess as the business grows more people could form a part of the team. Of course, after 3 months for the sake avoiding 2 hr commute and traffic jams of Bangalore I allowed him to work from another facility which is near his home. But still we meet once 10 days to touch base.

Telecommuting and working from home would consolidate further and further and what I hear from media reports even in organized sectors like BPO working from home would become norm to save costs and strive for work life balance.

My thoughts.
Regards
Karthik.

Chloe_Stella's picture

I'm totally new here but I can't help but reply....I have an incentive program for my DR's to work from home one day per week for each week they meet their goals at 100%.

Some love it and take advantage but most meet their goals and don't really want to work from home for various reasons.

Interestingly enough, the percentage of those who take advantage of the incentive is about 5 out of my 18 DR's so about the same percentage as what has been discussed here. :o

ashdenver's picture

Our company has some offshoring for data manipulation but the company has made a committment (long ago) to retain client-facing roles for domestic employees.

One of my coworkers is 100% remote. She works out of her house with her 2 yr old & 10 yr old twins. Not entirely a distraction free zone but she consistently whoops all our butts in terms of productivity.

Another of my coworkers has 2 small children she just adopted (in the last six months) and she refuses to work from home because she knows she wouldn't be able to focus, concentrate, work, etc.

I used to work remote 40% of the time when I lived 50 miles from the office. It was nice in that I could work in my jammies and mukluks (it's cold in the mountains!) but it was also a royal PITA. Even though we talk a good game about going paperless, I still have so many notes and files that I was essentially working from two offices. If I have one copy here, I need to pack another copy to bring home.

The thought of working from home (remote) 100% of the time is unappealing to me. As much as I dislike people on the whole, I miss the human interaction when I'm remote. I enjoy being able to overhear, offer input, go directly to someone for an answer, see and be seen.

For me personally, I've hit the ideal: I can work remote when the need arises. That's all I really want or need. (Thursday I'll be remote so I can take care of my husband post-surgery.)

I do think that in most situations, working remote is a privilege that should be earned. Maybe not as strictly as someone who said "if you hit these numbers, you get one day" but at least put in the time at the office to demonstrate you know your job and can handle most things that come up -- show us your personal baseline. If that baseline meets (or exceeds) the company's baseline, go for it - work remote. If you're still struggling or are a substandard performer, nope - you don't get that privilege because you haven't earned it.