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Browsing Posts published on April 5, 2012

Telecommuting is hardly the most new fangled idea out there. As we’ve pointed out here on GigaOM previously, virtual working has been kicked about as a way to improve productivity for years, but for some reason, despite regular research results validating the concept, telecommuting’s status as a good idea whose time hasn’t quite come continues. Why is that?

One of the most compelling and frequently cited explanations is that middle managers just aren’t that into the idea, distrusting their employees to keep working without supervisors watching them like hawks. You’d hope that over time managers would get over this fear, but a new survey out of Canada suggests that trust issues persist. Microsoft Canada’s recently released Flexible Working report surveyed 1,249 employees and 642 bosses and  found that while 55 percent of employees feel they’re more productive working from home, only a quarter of bosses agreed.  Why were Canadian managers less than crazy about remote work? They gave Microsoft a numbers of reasons:

  • Just shy of half (49 percent) said the inability to talk face-to-face
  • The same percentage complained about lack of focus
  • 26 percent disliked the  lack of accountability
  • 22 percent opined that that employees do less work

Still, despite the skepticism of bosses, almost half of them (42 percent) support remote working arrangements for their employees. That stat just reinforces the inevitability of remote work, according to Carolyn Buccongello, vice president of human resources at Microsoft Canada. “Boundaries between work and life are blurring. You may dismiss this as a Generation-C issue but this speaks broadly to all generations. There are pros and cons to this new way of work, but it is not going away and technology can become the key to resetting those boundaries,” she says.

She also called for bosses to rethink their distrust and focus on employees’ results, not face time. “A flexible workforce begins with leadership teams building a culture of trust and a vision that focuses on individual results rather than how much time they spend at their desk,” she says.

What, if anything, will finally convince middle management to embrace virtual work?

Image courtesy of Flickr user alexindigo.

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As we reported a few months ago, on February 8th UK telecoms giant O2 sent nearly 3,000 staff based at its Slough office home to telecommute for the day. Now the analysis of how the experiment went is out and, unsurprisingly considering a slew of earlier studies on telecommuting, O2 discovered a day at home was an all-around good thing for its workforce.

The exercise was partly designed to test how the company might respond to disruption caused by the arrival of the Olympics in nearby London this summer, but the results of the experiment again illustrate the benefits of flexible working even if thousands of world-class athletes aren’t about to invade your city. O2 found:

  • Telecommuting staff saved a £9,000 (currently $14,000 and change) in reduced commuting costs
  • 1,000 hours that was usually spent commuting was instead spent working, while staff also got an additional 1,000 hours of sleep
  • 14 percent said they saw more of their families
  • More than one in three (36 percent) said they were more productive than when at work
  • 12.2t of CO2 was saved in one day — that’s equal to CO2 emissions from driving 42,000 miles in a medium-sized diesel car

IT World offers some explanation of the technical details, which apparently produced no major issues: “In preparation, O2 upgraded its virtual private network (VPN) as well as its network infrastructure, which saw a 155 percent increase in users on the day, and a 110 percent increase in VPN data sent across the network. The company automatically redirected traffic between servers in the north and south of its offices to ensure that the load was spread efficiently and that there were no local bottlenecks.”

“The success of O2′s experiment extends much further than just allowing some of the workforce to stay at home and work. It proves that with the right thinking and planning, even the largest organizations can protect themselves from the most severe disruptions to their business,” Ben Dowd, business director at O2, is reported as saying in IT Wor. He also stressed the importance of proper preparation.

“Four weeks of intense preparation across the business – everywhere from HR and internal comms to IT and property services – laid the ground for an almost completely empty building and a widely distributed workforce,” he said.

Might a one-day trial of telecommuting be a good step towards remote work for your business?

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