Recently I was asked about the latest trends in mobile working also known as telecommuting. Some of my reflections are inspired by the outrage from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting. In most cases people were ranting and raving that her move was a throw back to the stone age. In most of the online comments I did not read much substance or in fact research in support or against telecommuting.
Flexible working hours have come about more out of necessity given the demands on people, especially parents. The 21st century’s increased tension, placed work-life balance at the centre of many relationships challenges. Working mothers have to consciously make arrangements with management when their children get sick or otherwise. So they may make up for it by doing some of their work from home. Small business owners often have meetings at a coffee shops instead of their home-office. One reason may be to avoid embarrassment or simply convenience in terms of travel distance in a big city like Johannesburg. With the advent of broadband (ADSL/3G) in the last 10 years it is much more practical to work from home and stay connected to the corporate network.
Email is the oldest technology available for telecommuting and basic project management. Skype is the preferred way to conduct remote interviews or meetings now, especially because of the video call works so seamlessly. The real technology that transformed remote working is wireless Internet hotspots. Without this, it will not be possible to do as much work from your local McDonalds as you now can.
In 1999 when I worked for Deloitte as a Senior Consultant, about 75% of my time was outside the office. One day a week was scheduled for completing time sheets (normally a Friday). This was a very effective system, which I believe is overlooked completely in a Web-based / Social media driven environments we now have. At the end of the day, measurement is the key to tracking progress for all employees. Time sheets is one effective way to account for tasks completed and outstanding. With your sales team it’s reaching sales targets, with accountants it’s completing and submitting tax returns and financial requirements.
When moving from Flexi hours to Telecommuting, Management must agree before hand how they will measure performance. Email is no good enough measuring stick. It is often used to delay the completion of tasks. People often email their supervisors or managers trivial questions. When no responses were received, they use that in the staff meetings as excuses for not performing. Management is the key to creating a culture that respects the need for telecommuting over flexi hours.