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IT workers to management: NOW can we telecommute?

Howard Baldwin | Feb. 15, 2013
IT helps others to work remotely but rarely gets to join in. Is that fair?

Other times, the discovery process is more cumbersome. Annis revoked the telecommuting privileges of a couple of employees who didn't perform when they were first given such privileges, then ended up terminating those employees later when they couldn't perform internally either. "Telecommuting wasn't the issue," says Annis. "It was their work ethic."

Telework as a corporate problem-solver

At times, telework isn't just a perk for deserving employees but a problem-solver for the organization.

For example, Sprint, in Overland Park, Kan., uses telecommuting to address overcrowding. More than 30% of the 2,500 IT staff members work from home on any given day, says senior VP of IT Peter Campbell; up to 70% either work from home either permanently or periodically. That includes everyone from hourly to salaried workers.

"We were crowded," Campbell reports. "With the confluence in interest in working remotely, improvements in unified communications technology and the reality of our physical space constraints, we set up hoteling facilities in our headquarters with whiteboards and bean bags."

Hoteling defined

Shared, unassigned "hoteling" space is a flexible, cost-effect alternative to maintaining dedicated workspaces for employees who aren't in the office every day.

For more alternative office arrangements, see Cubicle_wars: The best_and_worst_office_setups_for_tech_workers.

"It's had a tremendous impact on our real estate requirements in IT, and we've gained significant savings." Campbell doesn't have a figure solely for IT, but company-wide, he estimates $30 million in real-estate savings overall.

Other times, a remote workforce is the only workforce a company can attract. Annis knows this situation all too well from his experience as senior VP of IT at his previous employer, Universal Technical Institute (UTI). It used Progress Software for application development, but developers were not easy to find. "We couldn't convince enough of those developers to move to Phoenix," he says. "If we had an open position, and the applicant was in Tampa, it didn't matter."

Eventually, somewhere between one-third and one-half of the developers, project managers and QA staff were remote. UTI flew its remote Progress developers into Phoenix every six to eight weeks in order to foster relationships, which kept everyone connected and collaborative.

Experts give that strategy high marks. Organizationally, it's important to schedule regular confabs for remote employees, they say -- everything from quarterly in-person meetings to a regularly scheduled weekly check-in call between employee and supervisor. Sometimes, as with agile scrums among developers, a daily call works best to assess progress.

All those strategies help reduce the danger of invisibility to remote employees, RHT's Reed says. "If you work remotely all the time, you miss the opportunity to engage, to build camaraderie, to take part in face-to-face meetings. There's a danger to being out of sight and out of mind. You may still have to make yourself available, and make time to be in the office."


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