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Is Working Remotely on the Way Out?


By Joyce Lain Kennedy, ChicagoTribune.com
Special to Online Career Tips

DEAR JOYCE: I’m a single mom working from home three days a week. I can afford a sitter two days a week. I understand that Yahoo and Best Buy ended their policies of allowing employees to work out of the office. Maybe I’m overreacting, but are we seeing the beginning of the end of job policies that allow employees to work from home at least several days a week? — L.A.L.

Today more Americans are working from home at least one day a week than ever before: more than 9 percent of U.S. workers, compared with 7 percent in 1997.

And the last I heard, Best Buy non-store employees can still work out of the office, but now they will need a manager’s approval.

THE LIKELIHOOD. Here’s the good news: Unless your company begins sinking into the sunset and will try anything to boost business, a working-from-home option is not likely to go away any time soon.

That’s the takeaway from a new survey by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas: Most companies plan to maintain their telecommuting policies.

Here are a few details from the survey: 80 percent of the 120 human resources executives polled said their companies currently offer some form of telecommuting to employees, and 97 percent said there are no plans to eliminate that benefit. Most surveyed employers do not have a blanket telecommuting policy. Less than 10 percent offer remote working to all employees; about 40 percent do so to certain employees; another 30 percent permit some employees to work from home some days.

SURVEY DATA. Apparently corporate America continues to appreciate the benefits of greater productivity and lower costs via the home office. The Challenger survey cites key reasons for why companies support telecommuting:

  • Offers workers a better work/life balance, 32 percent
  • Increases productivity by allowing work from anywhere at any time, 30 percent
  • Builds morale, 12 percent
  • Keeps costs down for company office, 10 percent
  • Provides efficiency, 8 percent
  • Helps offset long commute times, 5 percent
  • Helps recruit talent, 3 percent

Challenger also found several reasons for why companies opt out of a telecommuting policy:

  • Decline in collaboration, 43 percent
  • Animosity among those whose jobs are not suited for remote work, 25 percent
  • Productivity downturn among home workers, 14 percent

The first reason given for sacking remote work policies is understandable: though the technology to work together on digitally facilitated projects is widely available and cheap, collaboration often is easier to achieve when participants are nose to nose in the same room. It’s human nature.

And although bosses don’t worry too much about the mice playing when the cat’s away, that concern could quickly balloon if work-from-home productivity tanks.

YOUR MOVES. The obvious moral for the telecommuting horizon: Keep faith with your commitment and make your boss happy by being highly productive — and remember to carefully document your productivity.

CYNICAL HUNCHES. Some observers suspect that the reason why these recently publicized bans on telecommuting won’t open the floodgates is because they are a disguised move to ditch unproductive workers and cut costs. Your guess is as good as mine on this score.

GRADUATION GIFT IDEA: Give a book, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” by Adam Grant (Viking). Grant, still in his early 30s, is well on his way to becoming America’s favorite college academic — Google him.

A professor of organizational psychology, the study of workplace dynamics, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Grant explains why some people rise quickly up the corporate ranks while others languish at the bottom.

The answer goes beyond effort, talent and luck: “Extraordinary results are more often attained by people who contribute more to others than they receive in return. The most sustainable way to get to the top is to focus not on your solo journey, but on bringing others with you.” Get it! Trust me, you haven’t read this landmark book a zillion times before.

(Email career questions for possible use in this column to Joyce Lain Kennedy at jlk@sunfeatures.com; use “Reader Question” for subject line. Or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.)



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