Telecommuting Slowly Gaining Ground

By Allen Bernard

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As the IT talent wars heat up (IT joblessness is running at or below two percent today) the number of people working at least one day a week from home (telecommuters) will likely continue to rise.

The proliferation of wireless technologies and feature-rich Internet applications also is making it easier for IT professionals to work outside of the office, said Brian Gabrielson a VP at Robert Half Technology (RHT).

"Any time you have a demand for talent like were seeing, this is reminiscent of sort of the late '90s … that could tip the scale" in favor of more flex time and telecommuting options being offered to lure new hires, he said. "This is a great time to in IT. Demand is just tremendous and there's just a ton of opportunity for folks."

According to new study by RHT, telecommuting is becoming more commonplace among IT professionals. Nearly half (44%) of CIOs surveyed said their companies’ IT workforce is telecommuting at a rate that is the same or higher than five years ago. Only three percent said IT staff work remotely less frequently today than five years ago. Improved retention and morale, and increased productivity were cited as the greatest benefits among firms that allow telecommuting.

The national poll includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees.

Attitudes Explored

Thirty four percent (34%) of CIOs whose companies allow telecommuting cited improved retention and morale through enhanced work/life balance as the greatest benefit. Increased productivity due to reduced commute time was cited by 28% of respondents. Somewhat surprisingly, what is not affecting the uptick in telecommuting is gas prices.

"You know, I get this question asked a lot and, no … it's not affecting" telecommuting numbers, said Gabrielson.

Companies may need to balance the desire of staff to work remotely against the expectation of accessibility, however. Indeed, survey respondents indicated that telecommuting programs can have drawbacks.

Nearly half (44%) of all CIOs surveyed felt that quality of work suffers due to diminished in-person contact with colleagues. Furthermore, nearly one-in-three (30%) CIOs surveyed felt that telecommuting employees are not as productive because they have less oversight.

"One of the points that we uncovered is telecommuting doesn't work well for everybody," said Gabrielson. "Managers can have a tough time with it. And let's face it some people just need that daily direction and daily grind of just going to work."

Implementing Telecommuting Programs

While telecommuting can benefit employers and employees alike, it’s important that companies have the appropriate infrastructure in place to facilitate staff working remotely. For example, nearly a third of CIOs (31%) surveyed felt that telecommuting employees generate too many security risks because they need to access elements such as corporate networks, systems and intellectual property off-site.

Clearly communicating guidelines about telecommuting also is necessary. To help ensure a successful telecommuting program, employers should consider the following questions:

  • What IT jobs are best suited for telecommuting? Alternative work arrangements are most suitable for individuals whose jobs can be performed with relative autonomy.

  • How frequently should IT employees be allowed to work remotely? Consider allowing employees to work from home one day a week, and try to schedule weekly meetings on days employees are on-site to provide project updates.

  • How will you ensure effective communication between team members? Keeping a schedule of workers’ on-site availability, and where and how they can be reached when off-site, can keep work flowing smoothly.