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This article is about the challenges, opportunities, and tips for managing a healthy change in telecommuting during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Operational and Security Challenges
As many businesses stopped telecommuting during the Coronavirus outbreak, there were a number of operational and security challenges associated with this decision. These included:
Internal resistance to the change in policy, especially when it came to critical projects or urgent deadlines;
A lack of understanding as to how and why the change was made; and,
A lack of understanding of the reasons behind the change.
Also, there were a number of operational challenges that were created by telecommuting during the Coronavirus outbreak, including:
Employees not being able to reach their colleagues or clients quickly;
A lack of communication between employees at different physical locations; and,
A lack of knowledge about what others in other locations knew, did not know, or were doing during the outbreak. This led to duplicate efforts and confusion about who was in charge.
However, the Coronavirus was not the first Telecommuting challenge.
Years before the Pandemic, many organizations have already embraced the Telecommuting as a part of their strategic map.
It is about both successful and failed attempts at implementing telecommuting programs. Successful telecommuting programs have multiple benefits.
Telecommuting, as defined by the Telework Research Network (TRN), is the “act of working from home or another location away from the primary workplace”. The TRN further divides telecommuting into two categories: virtual work and mobile work. Virtual work involves a worker performing tasks in his or her own time, such as from home. Mobile work involves a worker who travels from the primary workplace to a remote worksite to perform his or her tasks, such as from a client’s office. According to a study done by Harris Interactive for the TRN, “1.9 million Americans telecommute at least half the time”.
Many companies and government agencies are beginning to embrace telecommuting with mixed results. The United States Department of Labor estimated that in 2005, approximately 2.3 million workers, or 1.3% of the workforce, worked from home at least part-time, almost double the estimate for 1995 (700,000). A recent study of global companies found that 74% offer one or more types of telework program even though only 24% report that all employees in their telework program actually worked from home in a typical week. In addition, many organizations implement policies to support telecommuting which can be categorized into three main types: “optional”, “mandatory”, and “telework centers”.
For the most part, successful programs have been implemented through managers in middle management positions who have a belief in the value of their employees and have an interest in supporting them (Duxbury et al., 2006).
In addition, successful implementations require buy-in from senior management without which they are unlikely to succeed (Matlack & Holtzman, 2004). The organizational culture must also support it (McKenna & Barlas, 2005).
“Mandatory” telework programs typically involve dedicated employees who choose to participate in an established program. These programs are usually offered as permanent alternatives for those who do not wish to travel or commute to work on a daily basis due to reasons such as family obligations or personal preference.
These programs are typically well-established and provide employees with substantial support systems that help them meet their work/life balance needs (Duxbury et al., 2006). One example of this program type is Google’s policy which requires all engineers and some other positions to live near their worksite and only visit company headquarters once every three months (Google Telework Program Description 2007).
This has decreased employee attrition rates by 20% since its implementation in 2001 (Google). Another example is Corning Incorporated’s policy which requires all its employees working on Corning’s production lines to work at least two days per week from home or other satellite office locations around Corning’s Global Operations Center campus (Corning Telework Policy 2011). This has decreased employee attrition rates by 50% since its implementation in 2009 (Corning Telework Policy 2011).
Mandatory governmental telework policies
Another category of mandatory telework policies are those enacted by governments such as state governments which require employees of certain state government agencies to work remotely during specific days such as state holidays to reduce traffic congestion during those specific times (State Government Telework Programs 2008). This allows state residents an opportunity to access services offered by these agencies while avoiding rush hour traffic congestion if they choose not to travel on those days.
The US Army Telecommuting programs
Another example is the U.S Army’s Mandatory Telework Program which allows Army personnel who are stationed worldwide but conduct virtual duties within CONUS when possible during high density deployment periods that require personnel presence at installations such as Fort Hood (Army Mandatory Telework Program 2010) and Fort Bliss (Army Mandatory Telework Program 2010).
Another example is the U.S Army’s Family Friendly Workplace Initiative Program which requires soldiers to work at least 10 hours per week from remote locations anywhere within CONUS when possible during high density deployment periods that require personnel presence at installations such as Fort Hood (Army Family Friendly Workplace Initiative 2010) and Fort Bliss (Army Family Friendly Workplace Initiative 2010) when possible during high volume deployment periods that require personnel presence at installations such as Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in order to reduce stress on soldiers’ families where numerous soldiers are away at war for long periods of time overseas while also allowing soldiers an opportunity for career development if they settle near family friendly workplaces after they return from deployments.
They can also allow soldiers an opportunity for career development if they settle near family friendly workplaces after they return from deployments. These programs have resulted in significant decreases in attrition rates among military personnel who have participated in them (Army Family Friendly Workplace Initiative 2010; Army Mandatory Telework Program 2010; Army Work-Life Programs 2007; DOD Travel Management Guide 2011; State Government Telework Programs 2008; U.S Department of Defense 2012a; U.S Department of Defense 2012b) .
Employers Telecommuting Challenges
“Optional” telecommuting policies consist primarily of arrangements negotiated between employers and employees based on individual needs and preferences within clearly specified boundaries set forth by both parties involved in the negotiation process prior to implementation of these arrangements which include over-time pay rates for non-exempt employees who work outside normal business hours without prior approval from their respective supervisors which may be non-negotiable if excessive overtime is anticipated due to circumstances beyond the employer’s control such as sudden changes in production schedules due to unexpected demand fluctuations or customer orders that must be fulfilled immediately due to short supply inventory levels for products with limited shelf life . These policies typically involve direct supervisors negotiating more flexible arrangements with select employees based on particular needs than would normally be available through general company policies (Duxbury et al., 2006; Matlack & Holtzman 2004; McKenna & Barlas 2005; McReynolds & Davis 2003; Uhlir & Baruch 2004). These agreements typically include provisions specifying what can be expected under various circumstances including when over time will be paid at time-and-a-half rate instead of straight time rate unless approved by supervisor beforehand .
“Telecenter” policies consist primarily of an organization providing designated workspaces equipped with computers, phones, fax machines etc., furniture etc., that are located outside traditional office settings where individuals may come together either specifically assigned or self selected based on common interests or skillsets .
These centers can offer some benefits including access for individuals unable to commute regularly due to special needs conditions like severe weather conditions etc., access for individuals unable to commute because they lack childcare options etc., access for individuals unable to commute because they lack public transportation options etc., access for individuals unable to commute because they want greater flexibility so that they do not need prior approval from their supervisors before working beyond normal business hours .These centers also provide some drawbacks including lack of uninterrupted quiet time due co-workers talking about personal matters etc., lack of uninterrupted quiet time due co-workers talking about political matters etc., lack of uninterrupted quiet time due co-workers talking about sports matters .
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