The Telecommuting Myth: Page 2

Posted September 17, 2007

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

(Page 2 of 2)

I eventually found myself managing a support team. So this will be a home run, right? I can champion the cause for flexible hours and telecommuting by having my team become a shining example of flex time.

This is where the hypocrite realization hit home.

At first, everything was hunky dory. Some staff chose to work from home a couple days per week. Others just came in late morning and left late, while others chose to come in early and leave early. If people had errands to run during the day, they could leave the office and come back whenever they pleased.

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And work was getting done. At least, it seemed to be. Then the problems started to slowly creep to the surface.

First, a customer called in for support and got voice mail during business hours. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Worse, they didn’t get a call back for over an hour – a bit out of our 15 minute response time SLA. Turns out the support engineer was on an errand and forgot to forward his phone to a coworker, let alone his mobile number.

Second, it was difficult to schedule meetings where everyone was available. Meetings that were being scheduled early morning or late afternoon were not well attended. I’m not referring to a 9am meeting. No, this was more like 10:30am and half the team wouldn’t show. But most would dial in, so you’d think “what’s the problem?”

The meetings would be unproductive because there was a lack of interaction, frequent miscommunication, and frankly it was unproductive when we kept having to repeat ourselves to the person with the bad cell connection on the speaker phone. Contrary to those cell phone commercials, yelling “Can you hear me now?” doesn’t help much.

Third, just enough work was getting done. There wasn’t any extra effort being put in. People likely weren’t working eight hours. The argument that I used to use was that people could be more productive if they controlled their schedules. I have found that to be false for the majority. Give people an inch and they take a mile.

Finally, team cohesion and spirit was dying. For those working very hard, there was suspicion and lack of trust that coworkers were putting in the same effort. If they weren’t in sight, the thought was that they must not be working hard.

The good team members started quitting from frustration, leaving the slacking telecommuters, and then productivity declined sharply, including decreased customer satisfaction with our support response.

The good news is that there are management methods that would help improve these results. But I have come to the conclusion that the majority of people in IT cannot be counted on to be productive, accountable telecommuters or effectively manage a flex-schedule.

I can hear the jeering and hissing through my computer speakers, so let me be clear.

I’m not saying the benefits of spending more time with family, reducing your carbon footprint (“green” is in after all) and having less stress from commuting are not worth giving these telecommuting programs a go. I have certainly seen success on smaller teams working remotely, even geographically dispersed. What I am saying is that you should not take for granted that most people will easily adapt and be productive in a more flexible environment.

It certainly didn’t work out well for me on my first go around, so…

Strike three.

I’m out.

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