Do you guys know how dope Work at Home is? It's amazing. You or your organization might call it telework, remote work, work-at-home, WAH, or whatever but the overarching point is the same - not working in the office. Actually, I've found out that in the federal government, those different terms are actually different things. If you are teleworking, then you're not working in the office but you could be just about anywhere (house, coffee shop, etc). Work-at-home means that you "work at home" and no where else. Remote work is… I don't remember what remote work is… I think remote work means that you're not in your regular office but you are at some other affiliated office which doesn't include your home office. For the purpose of this article let's just stick to "telework".
I don't necessarily think telework is for everyone-all-the-time. But I do think it's for nearly-everyone-at-least-some-of-the-time. In fact, there's this really interesting website called Global Workplace Analytics and they track all sorts of data related to the modern workplace with a particular emphasis on telework - they're doing real data collection and analysis on this stuff. They reported that as of January 2016, 80 to 90 percent of the American workforce would like the ability to telework at least part of the time. And about half of the US workforce has a job that is compatible with some degree of teleworking while only about 20 to 25% of the workforce actually does at any frequency.
The Federal government alone has seen dramatic growth in its number of work at home (WAH) employees but still only about 3.4% of the entire work force actually telecommutes.
But is this sensible? Should it be expanded?
Last spring, I heard someone say they don't fully trust telework because there is no accountability. If they are in the office, they are accountable "unlike those people working on their 'telework tans'." In case you didn't get that, the person made a slightly offensive statement from a position of misunderstanding some fundamental things like technology, computers, dashboards, metrics, or the difference between knowledge-based and production-based work. But I don't think this person is alone in their thought process. I don't think this person or people of similar thought should be cut loose and start working from home full time either - again it's not for everyone. My initial emotional reaction is this: if a person that can't trust other people to do their work from home then they themselves probably can't be trusted. Since I telework full time, I probably took more offense than I should have before realizing that the person making that statement also has some sort of bias that can be overcome with a good transition strategy. Needless to say, I'm a strong advocate for teleworking done right.
So, what's the data say about Return on Investment from allowing work from home about half the time? Global Workplace Analytics ran the numbers and showed that the TYPICAL business (whatever that means) can save about $11,000 per person per year while each telework employee could personally save anywhere from $2000 to $7000 per year. From a government perspective, it's massive. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the five-year-cost of implementing telework throughout the federal government would be about $30 million dollars. That may sound like a lot until you factor in the entire cost of lost productivity of ONE SINGLE DAY in Washington DC alone is $100 Million. And do you know how easy it is for snow to shut down DC? Extremely easy. Snow in DC is like blue light to a reformed insomniac.
As a practical example in the private sphere, the New York Times reported in March 2013 that tech giant Cisco calculated its annual productivity gains at $195 million by switching to more telework. The behemoth insurance company Aetna saved approximately $78 million in real estate costs alone.
Between the cost savings to the organization, the cost savings to the employee, the increased reliance on tech and automation, and the and the record number of retirement-eligible employees that could leave the Federal and Private Sectors in 2017, implementing a sensible telework policy shouldn't just be a consideration but a necessity. But, the telework needs to be implemented correctly. You can't just toss a bunch of laptops at folks and say "get to it." There are some best practices for implementing teleworking teams. Next week, I'll cover virtual teams and what I propose (based on personal experienced and research) as a best practice methodology for virtual teamwork.