Many companies are starting to doubt the virtues of the mobile workforce with HP, Yahoo! and a few others calling hundreds of employees back into the office. But was it the right move?
These tech giants, and those who have followed, may be reacting too soon to what some have called a "disengaged workforce." The known benefits of telecommuting seem as desirable as ever as businesses look to add value and increase ROI wherever possible.
Even when measured against the perks of working in-house, telecommuting seems to have the edge with enterprise-level cloud telecom now available to businesses of all sizes and their remote teams.
(Offsite) Employee Satisfaction vs. (Onsite) Staff Chemistry
It’s common knowledge (and common sense) that people working from home describe higher job satisfaction and a better balance of work and family. According to a study published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, which analyzed the cumulative data of 46 other studies, telecommuting is generally beneficial for both employees and employers.
Employees perceive an increase in autonomy and appreciation that seems to correlate with better performance, loyalty, and optimism towards job prospects. Remote workers also reported feeling less stress while working at home than in an office environment.
Contrary to some critics, these perks carry through to the employer and company as well. Businesses gain a more positive workforce, less employee turnover and - as reported by the supervisors - increased job performance. Although the figures change depending on the business model, industry and schedule, they remained moderately positive for every situation.
Then what is it about the office dynamic that is worth protecting? In the New Yorker, James Surowiecki points out that telecommuting limits the countless face-to-face exchanges that lead to valuable ideas and solutions. There’s evidence to suggest that employees actively discuss and solve work-related problems when they’re chatting in the halls, in the break room, and on lunch. Presumably, the larger the company is, the more of these interactions there are to harness—perhaps justifying Yahoo’s bold move.
Without these breaktime insights, he claims, the company as a whole loses a deep, albeit intangible, resource for problem solving, brainstorming and teamwork. Any company struggling with its identity and competitive edge just can't afford to give up this live chemistry. Interestingly, the same psychological study that reports the advantages of telecommuting goes on to conclude, as Surowiecki does, that relationships between coworkers may be negatively affected despite other benefits.
Then the decision between in-house and remote work becomes a difficult trade-off.
So how do we decide between the two?
You might not have to.
Each communications breakthrough, whether it’s a new device, interface or application, makes that gap between people a little bit smaller. Surowiecki points out that telecommuting works fine for planned interactions, but less so for the spontaneous ones. But the line between planned and spontaneous is changing as the technology progresses.
Advanced communication systems allow people to easily find other coworkers and engage them through multiple channels and devices. Coworkers can dial each other into voice or video, screen sharing and collaborative file sessions, giving those casual conversations a range of tools to enhance the experience and exchange. The spontaneous conversation can even continue out of the office with mobile devices and softphone technology. And the most fruitful conversations can be recorded for later use.
Now imagine a company policy that encouraged these online exchanges. Instead of a dramatic employee recall like Yahoo’s, an equally bold “social telecommuting policy” would create waves of change. The technology is already around to support it, and only getting better. You just need people to use it, and employers to let them.
The potential of telecommuting is really only beginning as advanced Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and Unified Communications (UC) grow in popularity and ability. It’s a potential ‘best of both worlds,’ allowing companies to nurture job satisfaction, productivity as well as working relationships. With UC, there’s no need to choose between the two. Having a rich exchange at the ‘virtual watercooler’ is always a click away.
Topics: Business Phone System