Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside!

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside!

Summary: Do our businesses really need to be in the CBD, taking up so much valuable office space, when so much of the workforce could be offloaded to the cheaper countryside and suburbia and simply telecommute?

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Now the holidays are over for most of us and we are back at work, we just might think how good it would be to be beside the seaside all the time, or at least enjoy more of the good life in the country.

Would controlling a remote workforce present some logistical and organisational nightmares?

Of course, telecommuting has been around for sometime but with faster broadband becoming commonplace and cheaper, even in rural areas, and the business case for it just might stack up to boost its popularity and make it more mainstream.

Do our businesses really need to be in the CBD, taking up so much valuable office space, when so much of the workforce could be offloaded to the cheaper countryside and suburbia? And if such workers could be offloaded this way, then there might not be a need to pay them the extra money they need to live and work in the city.

What a great way for businesses to cut costs while giving their staff a better "quality of life"! However, as the Wall Street Journal blogs, better broadband may not lead to extra telecommuting due to extra video-conferencing equipment needed or company "culture" being against it.

Over the summer break, I drove down from Northland to Wellington passing through many lovely villages and towns on the way. In the rural wine and fruit producing region of Hawkes Bay I bumped into a former workmate who is also a technology journalist for several national titles, who visits Auckland every few weeks.

One of the reasons he left Auckland for Napier was so he could buy a house for him and his family. Home ownership is effectively unaffordable for many in the city nowadays, so the country life offers an option. Indeed, I almost took the plunge last year and attended my first open home.

However, country life also has its drawbacks, such as the isolation of being several hours away from your workmates, friends, etc. For a freelancer, you cannot do that "job" in the city you might get at an hour or two's notice. The cost of those monthly trips to Auckland may also wipe out any cost savings of basing yourself so far away. You might even feel you are losing touch with people and events, especially if, like me, you are single, working "home alone".

On my summer travels, I also interviewed the owners of a couple of technology businesses in the wine producing Wairarapa region, just outside Wellington. Lower costs were also a factor for them moving there from the city, as well as the acclaimed "quality of life".

Better internet was allowing such work to be done from their small, rural towns; businesses which were also growing as other "townies" moved in, with their own technology needs. These add to other companies who I came across last year and had "gone bush" in the Hokianga, citing lifestyle; plus an online world still allowing global servicing of their markets.

The service companies I saw last week had some clients in Wellington, helped by software allowing remote monitoring and fixing of computer problems. Where face-to-face contact was needed, a local engineer could be found. Indeed, this could present a model for a future distributed workforce.

IT staffers would have to install more remote monitoring tools, and links would have to be formed with local engineers for problems that needed on-the-spot handling.

But would controlling such a workforce present some logistical and organisational nightmares?

Some years back, I recall a futurist suggesting a world several decades from now where millions of British workers had decamped to a sun-kissed low-cost North African Mediterranean coast. Every few weeks they would head back to their London head offices to receive their instructions and keep up with what was going on.

Now that maybe so 2030, but for 2010, I will be heading closer to the city but avoiding the CBD in a bid to get the best of both worlds. Thirty-to-60 minutes from Auckland rather than several hours should strike a better balance.

Thus, if your summer break has led you wanting to consider working from home, or if some of your staffers are demanding it, especially if much distance is involved, these are some of the things to think about.

The following articles also give you a few more things to think about:

Topics: Telework, Telcos, New Zealand

Darren Greenwood

About Darren Greenwood

Darren Greenwood has been in journalism, not all of it IT, since the days of typewriters and long before the web spun its way around the world.

Coming from Yorkshire, he can be blunt, and though having resided in New Zealand, as well as Australia, for quite some time, he insists he is not one of the 'sheeple!'

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2 comments
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  • Telecommuting requires an environment of TRUST

    Many businesses do not have enough of that.

    As a supervisor/manager, you have to trust that the telecommuters are doing the work. Trust has to go out first, but real workers will produce the goods. Those poor managers who like to micromanage everything are NOT suitable for managing telecommuters.

    As a telecommuter, you have to trust that supervisors and workers based in the office are not going to shaft you. Those with personal agendas CANNOT be trusted.

    As well, telecommuting is only workable if some of the work can be apportioned into autonomous chunks that are able to be done by offsite individuals without requiring much interaction other than an occasional short email or phone call.

    Plus, you have to have worked well with co-workers to know what they mean in phonecalls or email without requiring face-to-face to pick up on micro-expressions. Same goes with video conferencing, as many details may be missed.

    In my last contract, I started working from my home office as I had better equipment and multiple monitors to be able to do some heavyweight document generation. It got to the point where I was just going into the office for a short day each Monday to touch base and discuss how and who would do what over the next week. I did not do in at all for the last six months, only talking on the phone and using emails.

    This worked mainly because:
    1. Corporate culture was not concerned - even the Project Manager was based in another state.
    2. I was primarilly only dealing with one person - and certainly not with the end client.
    3. Our skills were mutually exclusive: she was the SME, and I was the documentation/Word/Acess/etc expert.
    4. There was NO hidden agendas between us: we both wanted to get the work done the best way WE could.
    5. We got on well and understood between-the-lines of what eachother wrote/said.

    We used to joke that I was working from a beach in Vanuatu, for all the difference it would have made.

    At a previous contract, while the Project Manager said he did not care whether I worked from a beach or not, my immediate manager wanted me to work in the office. I could have easily worked from my home office for a lot of that contract.
    anonymous
  • Yes, trust is vital

    You are right about the element of trust.
    Employers will wonder about how well someone is working if they cannot be seen.
    Perhaps this is why telecommuting may well work best in a freelance or contract situation.
    If the worker doesn't not do the work, they will not get further assignments.
    I certainly hope I have the trust from my main employers, something I guess I have gained from being a former full-time staffer fior them.
    Nonetheless, it is good to touch base every so often, as such employers have become friends too.
    anonymous