Once considered the cure for all workplace ills, many businesses and employees are questioning the merits of working from home.
There was a time when telecommuting was seen as a panacea. The proliferation
of wireless technology had made it easier for workers in countless arenas to
work from their living rooms or the coffee shop of their choice, leading waves
of companies to embrace partial or total remote work policies for their masses.
It seemed like a win-win. Employees were happy because they weren't wasting
hours of their day snarled in traffic, it gave them a better-work life balance,
they were more efficient without in-office distractions, and, in turn, they got
more satisfaction from their jobs. Bosses were happy because they were saving
money on office space and because happier employees were theoretically more
productive and less likely to job-hop. And businesses were happy because the
promise of a flexible working environment was a priceless tactic to recruit
workers, young and old.
So what happened? Only a few years since it was heralded as a newer, better
way to work, studies began to emerge that put chinks in the armor of telecommuting.
Sixty-one percent of executives surveyed in January 2007 by Korn/Ferry
International, a Los Angeles-based recruiting firm, said they saw career
stagnancy among telecommuting workers
Nearly half of CIOs felt that remote employees' quality
of work suffered due to reduced in-person contact with colleagues
one-third said that these employees were less productive due to a lack of
supervision, in a study released last July by Robert Half Technology, an IT
staffing firm in Menlo Park, Calif.
Back to the Office
In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that a few of the biggest
promoters of home-based work arrangements, including AT&T, Intel,
Hewlett-Packard and segments of the federal government, had called many
remote workers back to the office
AT&T and HP, a company said to have invented flextime, both said it was
to consolidate operations. Intel reported that it was to improve team relations
through increased face-to-face interactions. And the federal government cited
security worries from laptop theft to hackers on wireless networks as the cause
of their remote work rollbacks.
IBM, where more than 40 percent of
employees don't come into the office every day, recently evaluated the pros and
cons of telecommuting through a study by Jay Mulki, a marketing professor at Northeastern
of Business Administration.
In his study, Mulki found that telecommuting presented two major challenges:
a feeling of isolation and difficulty achieving a work-life balance.
"Isolation happens when telecommuters can't get the support they
need," Mulki said. "When face-to-face communication isn't possible,
workers need a substitute-and voice mail isn't it."
Work-life balance-originally seen as one of the boons of telecommuting-had
been cited by others as something that could be hard to maintain when working
Jeffrey Phillips, a marketing professional who writes at the Working Smarter
blog, found the blurred boundaries of a home office difficult to add structure
"If your home is where your work is, when
are you 'on the clock' and when are you 'off the clock'
? It becomes
much more simple to go 'back to work' after dinner if you work from home, but
fairly soon you can find yourself complete immersed in work, even at home, to
the detriment of your life and your family," wrote Phillips.