Telecommuting – Labour’s benediction or HR’s Achilles’ heel?
Why HR still cannot come to terms with virtual hires
21st century workplace cultures are undergoing a paradigm shift from overtly conventional to radically contemporary. The last few years have witnessed an increasing surge in flexible work patterns with employers offering ‘telecommute’ or ‘work from home’ options to their employees and even outsourcing a larger part of their day-to-day functions to virtual employees/consultants/freelancers.
There have been several arguments in support of remote working; the primary ones being increase in employee productivity, more time available for work, business continuity, reduction in labour overheads, improved employee retention, and a lower churn rate. Findings from the Telework Research Network indicate that the trend towards flexible working in the US alone is likely to grow an additional 69% by 2016. Yet, despite the benefits attached to teleworking, HR managers continue to show hesitancy in hiring a remote workforce. The reasons for this are more constitutional than structural.
Productivity in telecommuting is a double-edged sword. While the general opinion is that remote working improves productivity, HR managers find it difficult sometimes to track and monitor the productivity of a teleworker. The fact that managers are not able to directly supervise their remote employees only compounds this issue further.
Lack of operational and managerial control
When dealing with remote workers, line managers often express concern about their inability to fully control what their immediate subordinates are doing when working remotely. There is no set work schedule planned during the day (remote workers usually have the flexibility to manage their time according to their convenience) and managers find lots of gaps in communication – something that is never a problem when working with people out of an office.
Security is another big concern with telecommuting, since remote workers have access to the company’s infrastructure – both physical (laptops, smartphones) and virtual (cloud storage, intranet portal, organisational shared resources). When working from a place other than the company’s official facility, security of sensitive data and information can be compromised, causing a lot of damages and losses to the business. Allowing telecommuters access to data and other assets – even for official purposes – poses a security threat that can potentially harm the organisation.
Decline in company culture and team spirit
Conventional HR practices are geared towards ensuring a culture of oneness and team spirit within the organisation. This can only be facilitated when employees interact with one another face to face to share ideas and thoughts in an environment that is conducive for healthy communication. This is not the case with remote workers, as the only form of face-to-face communication happens once in a while, when they are expected to report in to the office for meetings or other important events. In such a scenario, there is a high chance of a sense of isolation creeping in the minds of teleworkers, which eventually defeats core HR objectives of maintaining a healthy company culture and a spirit of active collaboration.
To embrace remote working, HR needs to foster a culture of connection
Disadvantages notwithstanding, research indicates that teleworking is still considered more productive and beneficial both to employees and employers. HR needs to implement a strong telecommuting policy that can ensure strict adherence to company rules and procedures and also enable employees to function in a less restrictive environment. If you are on the managerial side of things and worrying about whether or not to recruit remote workers, here are some tips that can help you make an informed decision:
- Maximise face time with remote workers – use technology to your advantage and ensure that remote employees connect regularly with other members in the organisation.
- Give remote workers ample opportunities to express their ideas and thoughts. Participation in various company events and activities is a good way to facilitate this.
- Treat virtual employees at par with in-office workers. This means making them an integral part of project reviews, appraisals, feedback, and other HR initiatives.
- Display trust when dealing with teleworkers. Constantly monitoring the activities of employees working offline can hamper their growth and make them feel devalued.
- Keep energy levels high by engaging telecommuters in all activities of the organisation and motivating them to actively participate in various HR events.
HR needs to nurture a connected culture throughout the organisation and its employees – irrespective of where they work from. Whether remote or in-office, employees need to share the organisation’s core values and objectives and work towards a common goal. Technology has blurred the lines of communication and HR managers need to use this to their advantage to create cohesive synergies that enable smooth functioning of the business.