At one point in our lives, we experience cabin fever. Part of the reasons that South African love their holidays so much is that they work extremely hard during the year and get sick of the routine and familiar environments. The reset button needs to be pressed every now and then.
This issue has been discussed in the US and Europe, but instead of urging workers to simply look forward to their vacations, they go out of their way to create an enabling office environment where workers don’t mind working.
Companies the in the US and Europe came up with the concept of telecommuting, the ability to work from home and delivering work to their managers either via email or via a shared platform – website – where the employees workload can be monitored.
According to a report by Business Today India, about a third of the US’ workforce have telecommuted at some time; further, the number of telecommuters has doubled in the last decade.
Echoing this popularity, a survey of 7 500 Indian employees reported a high demand for telecommuting. This is seen as the epitome of caring companies who encourage a work/life balance, especially mothers who have small children.
There are some advantages to telecommuting. A report by Huffington post pointed out these valid points:
– A Stanford study, conveniently released on the same day as Yahoo’s memo, reported that call center employees increased their performance by 13 percent when working from home. They also reported improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover, according to the study.
– A University of Texas at Austin study from late last year found that those people who work from home add five to seven hours to their workweek compared with those who work exclusively at the office. Such workhorses, homeworkers are.
– A Bureau of Labour Statistics study, also from last year, reported that working remotely seems to boost productivity, decrease absenteeism — that means missing work — and increase retention. It also gives employers more incentive to ask you to work on weekends.
Yet, anecdotal evidence and newspaper reports in India suggest that the opportunity to work from home is restricted to a small set of valuable employees in the IT, finance, and consulting sectors. So it seems as if not every company feels the same about telecommuting. In fact, there is a whole movement against it.
Yahoo has spoken
Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer is one industry leader that is dead against telecommuting. In fact, she was barely at the company a month when she instituted a ban on it.
A report by CNBC pointed out that People called Mayer every bad name in the book, and even accused her of selling out her fellow working mothers. More importantly, critics insisted Mayer had bought into a series of misconceptions and outright lies about telecommuters being unreliable and not hard working. And many employment experts warned that this mistake, would leave Yahoo behind in the race for the tech world’s best talent.
Just a month after Mayer instituted the telecommuting ban at Yahoo, investigators at the US Patent Office found that a large number of at-home workers routinely lied about the amount of hours they put in and that oversight of the telework program was completely ineffective.
Clearly, at-home work abuse does exist and the temptations are real for everyone who tries it. The wording of the memo to staff points to the need for greater collaboration and shared ideas with fellow employees within the office. However, the real truth behind this points to the fact that Meyer may possibly have little trust in the honesty of telecommuting.
Why are you here?
My stance on this is simple. If you don’t trust your employees to work remotely, you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place.
The IT industry is different to many other industries such as a manufacturing plant where a person has to be physically present to operate a machine, or a journalist who needs to be in the office to bounce story ideas off of co-workers. The IT industry is dynamic in nature and needs rules that display this.
A report by qz.com explains my position clearly. Results only work environment (ROWE) is a fantastic framework that needs to be adopted in places employing knowledge workers; you should be measuring the output of your workers, not the amount of time you can see them sitting in your office.
To me, this makes perfect sense. If you really think your employees will not be working if you cannot look over their shoulder to check, you have the wrong way of looking at the relationship with your employees.
The report – written by Yan Lhert – rightly points out that if people slack off when you aren’t watching them, your company has a disease. You have merely discovered a symptom. You cannot treat this symptom and expect the disease to be cured.
Bad actors will persist
Laws do not confine every person. Some people merely live by the credo of: rules are meant to be broken.
Bad workers in an organization will figure out what the rules and the process are and follow them to a letter. Then they’ll find a way to slack off within these boundaries.
Lets look at an example. A typical South African workday is 8am to 5pm with an hours break in-between for lunch. A bad actor will pitch up to work during the hours specified in the employment contract and spend half the day on Facebook or YouTube. The company hasn’t put a ban on that has it? Then when it comes time for the employees performance review, he can rightly state: hello…I followed the rules specified in the contract.
By contrast, a good worker will come to work at 10am, but will work until 10pm because they are fully engaged with what they are doing.
What metric are you using to determine that the worker who comes in at 10am is seen as a malingerer? Who would you rather want in your organisation? A person who sticks to office hours yet abuses the companies time? Or the worker who doesn’t stick to stipulated working hours yet is engaged from the word go?
Lets say that you relax the stance on working hours. The Bad Actor will now come in at 11am and leave at 4pm not achieving much. The good worker will still come in at 10am and be engaged until 10pm.
As Lhert points out, it all of a sudden becomes very obvious who cares about the organization and who does not. This is thanks to the lack of rules and process, not because of them. Things work best when you give people freedom as individual actors.
In the case of telecommuting, some employees do not do their best work from home, or simply don’t like it. That is fine; but you should trust your employees. Let them make that decision themselves.