Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Two-Faced on Telecommuting

My job as a project manager for a very large international telecommunications company is an ideal model for telecommuting. I log into our corporate network via secure VPN connection to obtain data, analyze it, and produce reports, analysis & recommendations related to the health and effectiveness of our business unit's IT applications. Interaction with my boss, co-workers, clients and resources is handled over the telephone and the computer via email or web-based conferencing/computer sharing applications.

For the last year, I've been working from home. It's worked out beautifully! I am able to work in comfort, with everything I need within a few steps of my desk. As a smoker, I can indulge in my habit without having to stop what I'm doing to go outside - 50 feet from the entrance to the building - to light up. I don't have to slog to and from our downtown offices in the horrible Dallas traffic, wasting time and gas. I end up using that time to get work done.

However, the edict came down recently from on high that all employees will work at a company assigned work location (office). Those who had formal telecommuting arrangements would be forced back into an office. Nobody is exempt; no matter what your job is, you have to work in a company office. If you're an outside sales rep and spend much of your time on the road, you will still be required to report to the office if you aren't on an appointment with a customer. If you have absolutely no interaction with anyone within the company, you are still required to work in a company office location.

This is Dilbert's pointy-haired boss in action; the departure from logic that this mandate demonstrates is mind-boggling.

First, our company prides itself on its suite of products and services that facilitate telecommuting. In fact, the internal corporate mantras, beaten into the employees on a regular basis, all relate to the global network. Facilitating the communication needs of everyone no matter where they are. Creating a seamless communication environment around the world. Doing it better than anyone else. We sell these concepts internally to the employees and externally to our customers. But it seems we don't want to walk the talk ourselves.

Second, companies these days, including mine, are all jumping on the "green" bandwagon. Cutting down on energy usage, carbon emissions, and working to lessen the human impact on our environment is all the rage these days. This shortsighted policy of "you work in an office, period" is very anti-green. As such, it is not in line with what we state to be our commitment to being a good corporate partner with our community.

Third, it is anyone's guess as to why our leadership team made this decision. Perhaps there are issues of trust. It seems simple to me - if leadership doesn't trust people to do their jobs without direct, constant supervision, then those people shouldn't be in management positions or positions that require a high degree of autonomy or self-direction. Those are generally the types of jobs that are ideal for telecommuting.

Fourth, another constant drumbeat we're subjected to internally is related to saving money and expenses. It stands to reason that if employees whose jobs could be done at home or remotely were allowed to take advantage of a telecommunting arrangement, it would save the company tens of millions of dollars in real estate expenses. Not only building leases, but also the utilities/amenities required to support workers who fill those offices.

Last but not least (well, I take that back - it may the the last concern of our leadership team) is the impact on employee morale. In this economy, more and more people are having to scrimp and save every dime just to get by every month. Our company, like all the others out there, is cutting back everywhere you look. Layoffs are a regular occurance. Job security is non-existent. Benefits have been scaled back. Pensions are a thing of the past. Salaries are frozen. Bonuses have plummeted. Stock options are worthless. Morale is swirling down the toilet. Enacting this stupid, draconian policy just adds to the stress that our employees face every single day with the added expense of gas, parking, vehicle maintenance, and tolls. Or at the very least, a bus pass. Bottom line: more personal expenses.

It's not very often that I am disappointed in my company's leadership team, but this is one of those times.

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