We asked two HR professionals whether the option of anytime-anywhere work (telework) was the solution to increased productivity. Here’s what they had to say:
Yes, says Kerry Grigg CAHRI, senior Mars University Manager at Mars Australia and New Zealand.
Research reported in academic literature consistently demonstrates a range of positive outcomes linked to telework, including increased levels of employee trust, job satisfaction and performance, and lower levels of work/family conflict, job stress and turnover. These are important drivers of productivity.
Banking has led the way in telework in Australia. In 2013, the Commonwealth Bank reported a 27 per cent increase in productivity from its pilot work-from-home strategy. Keys to the success of the arrangements are the visible commitment from senior leaders, reinforcement of and links to the organisation’s culture, the engagement and accountability of line managers, promotion of the program, and ongoing monitoring and reporting.
Another factor to consider is the tipping point between teleworking’s ability to drive productivity and its potential to harm co-worker relationships and stifle collaboration. When Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer famously decided to scrap Yahoo!’s telecommuting policy, she claimed: “People are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” Research on intensive telecommuting (more than 2.5 days a week) offers some support for this view.
If the employee’s role requires them to collaborate to drive innovation, consider hybrid teleworking that strikes a balance. Factor in enough face-time in the office, or via technology, to build the required social capital that drives collaboration and innovation. If that condition is satisfied, teleworking can offer immense benefits.
No, says Dr Robyn Johns CAHRI, senior lecturer of HR management at UTS Business School, University of Technology, Sydney.
Too often companies don’t plan telework initiatives properly. Defining it is also important for setting boundaries. Administrative structures can be designed to provide leadership and support for remote workers, but infrequent contact with supervisors may give rise to difficulties in such areas as identifying training and development needs, and providing performance feedback.
Accounts of worker productivity should be met with some skepticism. Studies often rely on self-reported data, and, given that many teleworkers volunteer, they may be biased in claiming success.
The drawbacks for employees can be even more detrimental. Even if teleworkers work as hard as their in-office colleagues, they may get lower performance evaluations, smaller pay increases and fewer promotions. Being seen to be committed at work is important when it comes to performance appraisals and promotion.
Also, a lack of social interaction can have an impact on teleworkers’ physical and mental health. Feeling lonely, irritable, worried or guilty are all common emotions among teleworkers. Insecurity and lack of confidence in one’s abilities can also result from not having someone to talk things through with.
While there are many disadvantages associated with telework, it’s an evolving work practice that shouldn’t be abolished. Rather it should be seen as a mechanism to allow employees to occasionally escape the pressures of the traditional workplace.
What’s your view?
Share your thoughts below.
AHRI has recently released the findings of our anytime-anywhere work member survey. Read the full report.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the November 2014 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘For or against’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.