Making the Case for Telecommuting – 15 Inches at a Time


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As our friends along the East Coast curse the snow, ice and cold that has afflicted the region over the past two winters, there is an upside that will impact people who are far removed from the widening Snow Belt. Mother Nature is advancing the cause of telecommuting more than anyone else.

Blame it on el Nino, la Nina, global warming or Sarah Palin, but the past two winters have wreaked havoc on the population dense East Coast. Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia all set records for snowiest winters ever in 2009-2010, and Connecticut just broke the record for the snowiest month since recordkeeping began more than a century ago.

Last February’s double blizzard did more than increase the sales of rock salt and snow shovels, it cost taxpayers an estimated $350 million in lost productivity. This created the “perfect storm” – the long overdue discussion on telecommuting on Capitol Hill. As the popular saying in Washington goes, “a billion here and a billion there, soon you are talking real money.” President Obama even got in the act, as jabbing local school for shutting down due to snow and ice was one of his first acts as Commander in Chief.

There is nothing like dealing with stir-crazy kids during a 2″ snow “storm” to rally Members of Congress into action. Congress passed the Telework Enhancement Act last fall. Signed in law by President Obama in December, the act expands the number of federal employees eligible to work remotely while requiring federal agencies to establish formal telework policies within the next 180 days. Ideally, this will not just maintain productivity during snowstorms for the betterment of federal agencies and the government contract-dependent private sector, but will empower rank-and-file employees to work from home throughout the year and not just when there are two feet of snow on the ground.

With technology hurdles being eliminated, management’s concern about a lack of productivity has been a key hindrance in the adoption of telework options. Managers fear that workers will be sitting on their couches watching NCIS marathons while downing Coronas instead of providing a predictable eight hours of productivity. Of course, this assumes that employees sit at their computers and work efficiently while at the office, never tweet, have no interest in sports or entertainment and have never heard of Facebook.

Reactive companies who try to micromanage their employees are only hurting themselves by casting a blind eye to telecommuting. After all, companies that have ingrained telecommuting into the DNA of their organization are least affected by severe weather. Companies that trust their employees and establish a culture of acceptance are more likely not only to survive a blizzard that shuts down the competition, but they are also more likely to retain top talent. Hiring is expected to double in 2011, with the economy projected to add more than 2 million new jobs. Employees that stuck around during the worst of the recession despite salary freezes might be the first to head for greener pastures. Can companies who have been struggling to remain profitable afford a talent exodus as the nascent recovery takes root?

Severe weather presents a golden opportunity for companies to address telecommuting policies. Rather than defensively acting to minimize productivity delays, companies should proactively codify policies, invest in technology and ingrain telecommuting into the corporate culture. Not only will companies be able to handle Mother Nature’s curveballs, but they can use it to their advantage in attracting and retaining top talent. Until recently, telecommuting has been considered a “perk”, but the time is fast approaching when it is a standard requirement to remain competitive in most industries. Once top-performing employees get a taste of the myriad benefits of telecommuting options, why would they switch to anything else?

The private sector often derides the government for its lack of innovation, inability to change and general lack of vision. Now that even the federal government is embracing telecommuting, it is time for other laggards to revisit their stance as well. Not everyone can afford to be proactive, but a failure to be proactive and reactive to such an important issue is a recipe for failure. Like most things in business, long-term success is often not determined by predicting the next crisis or business cycle, but by swiftly and effectively reacting to the new environment. Telecommuting is the no long the future of business, it is the present.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Koller
Serving as the Senior Business Analyst for VIPdesk, James works with internal teams to develop solutions for new opportunities. He has more than eight years of relevant experience in business analysis, project management, proposal writing and strategy execution. In his free time, James enjoys traveling, reading business and leadership books and cooking foods that he can neither pronounce nor replicate.


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