Teletales: myths of teleworking

Can your office provide flexible working arrangements, or is management trotting out some well-used excuses to avoid dealing with it?

commentary Can your office provide flexible working arrangements, or is management trotting out some well-used excuses to avoid dealing with it?

Last month I said managers' lack of support for flexible working (ie, working away from the office) highlighted a deficiency in judging employee performance. This month I want to debunk other excuses management uses to avoid supporting flexible working arrangements.

The manager that says no to flexible working because of OH&S concerns isn't trying hard enough.
Myth #1: OH&S concerns. Occupational health and safety is a real concern for managers of teleworkers. Employers aren't exempt from ensuring employees work in a safe environment just because they aren't in the office. According to WorkCover, a NSW government authority on OH&S, an employee is entitled to make a claim against the company if injured during work, even if that work happens to take place in the home. But is it a reason to not allow your employees to telework? It shouldn't be.

WorkCover advises that if you want to allow your employees to work from home you should provide them with the right equipment, check that their environment is a safe and healthy one (ie, is there sufficient light), ensure they have the training to do their job away from home, and establish agreed work hours. This means the company will need to provide more resources (equipment, training, etc), but it shouldn't be a show stopper.

Bruce McCabe, managing director of analyst firm S2 Intelligence, says OH&S is a concern but it in terms of stopping flexible working, it is the excuse of a lazy manager. "Those sorts of issues are taking increasing mindshare in managers, no questions about it. But I am not sure how valid the concern is. At the end of the day, hundreds of companies have employees successfully working on the move." The manager that says no because of OH&S concerns "isn't trying hard enough," says McCabe.

Myth #2: Inability to monitor hours worked. In a Toshiba-sponsored study of flexible working, 63 percent of the respondents said not being able to monitor the hours employees worked was the main barrier to flexible working -- whether it be because managers are afraid their staff are working too little or too much. Having proper measures for employee peformance will weed out the abusers of the system, as for the overworkers, perhaps managers have lost the art of communication.

Employers shouldn't make the mistake of allowing employees to work away from the office, but not changing the way they expect to communicate with those workers. McCabe says communication is key. "Socialisation mechanisms are much more important than ever before -- managers need to spend more time getting employees together socially to improve trust and improve communication," he says.

Myth #3: Too many distractions at home. I think any manager who uses this excuse hasn't really thought the issue through. The reason why many employees want to work from home is to escape the distractions in the workplace. Anyone who has suffered from the colleague that stands around your office looking for a chat, or who is forever asking questions, knows what I am talking about.

When choosing the benefits of working away from the office, 33 percent of the survey respondents said time and productivity gains, with 10 percent specifically stating less distractions.

What is the right reason to say no? When it really isn't appropriate for the person's job. Not every job is suited to working from home, and that is when an employer should stand firm. But any of the reasons listed above I don't think are good enough excuses. We are heading into a time when workers are coming to expect flexible working arrangements, and are picking and choosing employers based on that. The technology is there, we are just waiting on management to catch up.

Natalie Hambly is editor of Technology & Business. Write to

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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