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The Pros & Woes of Telecommuting

Posted on 3.01.2015

By Amberly Dressler, Managing Editor

Office workers often dream of the chance to work from home – no commute, no dress code and better life-work balance.

Today, many of them, particularly knowledge workers (those who think for a living) are getting that opportunity. In fact, 80 percent of knowledge workers surveyed by collaboration software provider PGi say their organization offers telecommuting options, and, according to the survey, both they and their managers think they are happier and more productive for it.

Two of the most forward-thinking enterprises in the world, Yahoo and Google, however, have strong stances against telecommuting. In 2013, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ended the company’s work-from-home policy – wanting Yahoos to communicate and collaborate side by side. Similarly, Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette has been quoted as saying that as few people as possible telecommute at Google. It makes sense. Even though Google is a big player in making telecommuting possible (Google chat, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, etc.), its unique culture would be difficult to replicate remotely. Its yurts, cafes, whiteboards for brainstorming and “sharing cubes” that can be found in its offices around the globe all contribute to an environment that fosters creativity and teamwork.

Still, more and more companies are turning to telecommuting as a solution for staying open during inclement weather, or recruiting top talent or for meeting changing demands like those from the millennial workforce (those ages 18-34) who are expecting the option to telecommute, even if it’s just one day a week. Staying connected in an increasingly remote world, however, has its challenges, which of course differ depending on a company’s infrastructure. For example, if only a few people work offsite full-time their needs will be different than those of executives working remotely on Fridays or those from a globally distributed workforce.

To keep an enterprise moving forward, brands must be creative with how they keep everyone connected to colleagues, to clients and to industry peers – and connected in a way that email, conference calls, chat or project management software don’t afford. After all, there are still relationships to be nurtured. Social media management company Buffer, for example, has its two-dozen plus employees distributed across the globe and in order “to have deliberate face-to-face time together to bond and have fun” they hold multiple Buffer retreats per year, where they gather the whole team in a single location. Past locations have included Thailand and South Africa. Buffer covers all the expenses, flights, accommodation, most meals and activities (which actually might be more affordable than office space in San Francisco, for example).

According to Buffer, once the team members get home, their conversations with each other are enhanced. Buffer writes in its blog that they now “know the tone of somebody’s voice and the way they approach problems and discussions. You read their emails differently. This changes things, and is why we’ve found retreats to be not only a fun part of our culture, but an absolute necessity.”

Aside from face-to-face time, mobile apps provide unparalleled opportunities to stay connected. Colleagues and associates could become “friends” through Fitbit, for example, an activity tracker with a corresponding app that provides the opportunity to challenge other Fitbit users to a “workweek hustle” or “daily showdown” to see who can be the most physically active. There are messaging capabilities as well to cheer or jeer participants. It could simply be a fun way for remote workers to build relationships that would naturally happen in an office setting.

Of course everyday productivity is key to working on-site or remotely, but as the number of organizations that offer telecommuting rises, it’s important to nurture relationships wherever one is working.

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