Should bosses kill the office and let everyone telecommute?

Should bosses kill the office and let everyone telecommute?

Summary: It's time to kill the office.At least that's what Wired columnist Brendan I.

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Should bosses kill the office and let everyone telecommute?It's time to kill the office.

At least that's what Wired columnist Brendan I. Koerner says in his latest piece championing the values of telecommuting - and urging bosses to send everyone home for good, saving green on all the cubicle space the company won't need.

He writes:

Last year, researchers from Penn State analyzed 46 studies of telecommuting conducted over two decades and covering almost 13,000 employees. Their sweeping inquiry concluded that working from home has "favorable effects on perceived autonomy, work-family conflict, job satisfaction, performance, turnover intent, and stress." The only demonstrable drawback is a slight fraying of the relationships between telecommuters and their colleagues back at headquarters — largely because of jealousy on the part of the latter group. That's the first problem you solve when you kill your office.

Saved cash on fuel and true commuting, retransplant costs and even less distractions are why this is a no-brainer, Koerner writes. It's all about letting your gadgets keep you tethered to the office.

But I'm not so sure. I think it's easier to get distracted at home -- depending on what's there (spouse? kids? pets? Guitar Hero?). And the monotony of the office can be just as bad as the monotony of home. Having worked at home for a considerable stretch, telecommuting all the time ruins the solace that my home provides for me. (Unless I go to Starbucks. But it's such a hassle.)

What do you think, readers? Should bosses kill the office?Tell us in TalkBack.

Topics: CXO, Microsoft, IT Employment

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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Talkback

55 comments
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  • Not Quite...

    Business should offer telecommuting as an option to employees, not a requirement. The best approach is to present this as a benefit. CAUTION: Businesses need to understand the pros and cons of telecomuting. For example, what works for a contact center may not work as well for application development or for marketing. Our company currently has 1/5 of the company working from home with plans to expand that offering for almost one out of four employees. However, contact center work-at-home efforts included both infrastructure build-out and special contracts with hourly employees requiring performance and quality standards to be maintained in order to continue this benefit.
    brokawe
  • Office cubicles suck and should be banned by the Geneva convention...

    But what possible reason would corporations have for saving the planet? Think about it, if most IT sector people stayed at home and worked the savings would be minimum but if most of the cubicle dwellers went home to work the companies could easily save the planet from green house gasses that their own employees generate.
    progon
  • Only if...

    I would be all for this, but ONLY if bosses wised up and understood that it's the quality you produce, not the amount of time you work. If they got rid of this mandatory 8-hour days bullshit and switched to a task based system (at the same level of pay, of course) then I think 100% telecommute could work.

    IMO the whole point of telecommuting is so there can be a balance between work and life that needs to get done; taking care of a sick child, for instance. Once you're expected to sit at your home computer for 8 hours or more, then it defeats the entire purpose of telecommuting in the first place.
    wayne62682
    • I agree with Wayne2682

      Best Buy ihas set up a program for management and office staff that goes one step further. Called ROWE (Results Only Work Environment -- (Not Results Oriented), it basically does away with the 8 hour time paradigm. It states "as long as you meet your objectives, the way you spend your time is up to you. Work is no longe3r a place you go, its a thing you do. There is no mandatory meetings or fixed schedules. You stop doing any activity that wastes time, and nobody criticizes you for "leaving early" or "coming in late".

      This is the beginning of that for everyone I hope!
      Daniel56
    • value?

      Therein lies the difficulty with telecommuting: the perceived value of the employee cannot be readily be ascertained by management as a proportion of evaluation requires presence - you are only as good as the last ppt, doc, xls you produced,and/or a 'bunny you pulled out of the hat' to solve a problem in an IM or teleconference session.
      Total hot desking is the middle ground.
      muzza2005
    • Not entirely.

      Not commuting to work would save many hours. Although I like the idea of working to complete tasks instead of filling in a time requirement. Although sometimes a tasks takes more time than expected, so there needs to be room for such adjustments.
      T1Oracle
  • Younger management, different mindset

    Older managers can't deal with people working out-of-office, mostly because they aren't sure how to micro-manage their time.

    Many office workers commute to work simply to sit at a desk for 8 hours working on what could easily be done from home. You don't just save time, you save the commuting cost (gas/repair, or train ticket), you save the commuting time, the happiness of the worker, and a hundred other benefits.

    Technology makes tele-commuting easy and trackable. People resist it and make it difficult. Webcams, conferencing software, etc are all cheap and available. You could even pay workers less for working from home - show them their own savings in commuting costs.

    Like most advances, it will change when the old guard retires.
    coffeeshark
    • I heard that some line about the "Paperless office" 10 years ago

      Yet we now are required to have both paper and electronic copies of documents in storage.

      I hope you are right, but when will stupidity, paranoia and the nature of control freaks change? I don't think that's a generational issue, it's a human nature issue.
      ThePrairiePrankster
    • What saved costs?

      So I spend less on gas, but my household utility bill goes
      up, not just because of a PC being on all day, but also
      because I can no longer use my set-back thermostat. I
      would also probably get less exercise at home, because I
      would no longer walk around the building, and I would be
      closer to food that is already paid for.

      Not to mention needing the $150K worth of equipment our
      software runs on. The bosses would approve that in my
      house, right?
      aep528
      • That 150k could be...

        ...accessed remotely using something like Sun's SunRays. Mitel is now making an integrated phone/SunRay (see http://www.mitel.com/DocController?documentId=27874 ) with a single smart card sign in that allows you to access all of your apps as well as your phone/vm/ld etc. If you use gear where you actually have to physically interact with the equipment (CAM for example) then you are SOL, but most office workers could benefit from a gadget like the one above, even if they worked from home only one day a week.
        914four
  • RE: Should bosses kill the office and let everyone telecommute?

    I've spent the last 4 years working from home for clients worldwide, after 30 years working in conventional offices - and I've discovered there is such a thing as too much peace and quiet!! Perhaps as video conferences become more the norm than the exception, this problem can be somewhat mitigated.
    michael@...
    • depends on your preference

      Some people do better with an "environmental load" (psych term), or ambient people noise around them. I'm one of those. So I like going to the office some of the time. But I also like not having to drive some of the time.
      bmeacham98@...
  • Yes.

    I've been a telecommuter for eight years--and would never consider going back to an office environment. Not only do I <i>hate</i> driving, especially in rush hour, I get more done in my own custom-tailored environment. And for misanthropic hermits like me, the solitude is great.
    Henrik Moller
  • Too much telecommuting this year

    Thanks to injuries (and some great management!) I've spent several months of this year telecommuting. Good news/bad news:

    * Say what you will, overheard conversations in the cube farm are a big part of team cohesion and sideband communication.
    * Yes, home has its distractions.
    * Maybe in Japan I would have enough bandwidth to do some of my work productively, but that kind of technology won't be hitting the USA until I'm long retired.
    * It sure beats short-term disability
    * I can afford better office furniture than $COMPANY can -- esp. if doctors' orders call for leg elevation.
    * I really don't advise trying to do labwork by remote.
    * Meeting acoustics suck by remote.
    * "Desktop sharing" sucks almost as badly.
    anonymous
    • I agree on the overheard conversations factor.

      Of course if people work from home they would want to work at different times, and no one will be on at the same time unless it was mandatory. One potential solution is to require daily blogging.

      My boss encourages all of us developers to keep a blog so he can keep updated. It is a pain and gets in the way of working on real problems, but its value in terms of communication and idea sharing is pretty good. Of course that only works if people do it regularly and thoroughly.
      T1Oracle
  • RE: Should bosses kill the office and let everyone telecommute?

    Yes, I'm all for telecommuting and would do it if I could. Our employees have a higher productivity rate since telecommuting than working in the office. The problem you have with distractions about working from home stems from no self discipline. Our employees are required to have a home office where they can be isolated from the rest of the house so that customers on the phone cannot hear any background noise.

    Some jobs require people to be in the office, such as the IT team incase there is a hardware related issue and parts need to be swapped out.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Discrimination?

      So does that mean your company discriminates against
      employees who can't afford a big enough house with a
      dedicated home office space?
      aep528
      • No

        It means if you can't meet the guidelines for working remotely then you can't work remotely.
        Loverock Davidson
        • A sign of the apocalypse?

          For the second time today I find myself agreeing with Loverock. Perhaps there is a chance for world peace after all...
          I've been telecommuting and teleworking since 1995 my employer hired too many people for the size of the office and volunteers for flexible cubicles were sought. For it to work there has to be a door, and when that door is closed I'm "at the office". I actually find the personal detriment is that I work more hours, but on the other hand I am more productive.
          914four
  • I'd love to do it

    But my specific job doesn't really work well on the home office model. That being said, I think a move towards telecommuting would work out if people were better trained on how to properly do it, i.e. set up a dedicated space, etc.
    Norcross