By Guest Columnist TEDRA CHEATHAM, executive director of the Clean Air Campaign
The recent decisions by Yahoo! and Best Buy to end their telework programs have kick-started discussions in workplaces across the country about whether flexible work arrangements are a viable business strategy. Is telework on the way out?
The truth is that the companies at the center of this debate have made isolated decisions about what they feel is best for their particular situations. Their position is that a lack of proximity hurts the natural collaboration of employees at the office and inhibits innovation and the bottom line.
There’s also an underlying concern about the work ethic of teleworkers. This old-school mentality asks: “If employees are working and no one is around to see it, did they actually do the job?”
Here in Georgia, however, employers are working from a far different perspective, equipped with a unique support structure for telework to thrive. Local survey data indicate that four out of five telemanagers here believe telework is good for their organization, with 64 percent supporting the notion that it helps them leverage a competitive advantage.
Under the auspices of the Georgia Commute Options program, the Clean Air Campaign has worked with more than 250 Georgia employers to start or expand telework programs.
Many of these employers started out with similar concerns, but they have seen the benefits of a properly implemented program that includes formal policies and training to help telemanagers. On average, they have seen a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in employee productivity and boosts to employee satisfaction and retention. Many have even seen significant savings on overhead costs.
Some key elements differentiate the healthy programs in Georgia from the issues making headlines elsewhere:
- Telework does not have to be an all-or-nothing arrangement. Many of the employers we work with let employees telework once or twice a week. Others have full-time teleworkers that remain just as effective. It can and should vary based on each person’s position and responsibilities. Done properly, it can be an effective conduit for work, no matter whether the task is innovative in nature or just administrative.
- Telework programs should have clearly defined directives and responsibilities for employees and managers. Many times, this requires a fundamental shift in thinking away from judging productivity on the amount of time someone is at a desk to the amount of work they are getting done.
- The program should make it clear that the employer can change an individual’s telework arrangement at any time, based on current business needs.
- Telework is not appropriate for all jobs or employees in an organization. Selection, training and evaluation are important steps in implementing a new program. Many employers start off on the right foot by instituting pilot programs that allow them to work out the kinks and develop a balanced plan before expanding telework to more areas in a company.
- Telework is particularly well-suited for Atlanta and many of its industries. We live in the seventh-most congested metro area in the country, and traffic costs the region’s employers a combined $3.1 billion each year in lost productivity. Meanwhile, both Forbes and Microsoft have recognized Atlanta as one of the most telework-friendly cities in the country. This is potentially great news for commuters spending $4,100 a year and an hour a day driving back and forth from their home computer to their work computer.
When telework programs are handled in this manner, employers can see the benefits while avoiding the perceived negatives. Employees are given the flexibility to improve their work-life balance as mature adults, while at the same time being held accountable for their productivity. Recruitment is also improved as companies gain the ability to appeal to younger demographics and prospects who live farther away from the office.
The bottom line is that the benefits of a good telework program far outweigh the amount of time and effort it takes to set it up, and many companies in Georgia are taking advantage. Telework is the fastest-growing commute option in the metro Atlanta area. More than 600,000 people – one quarter of all commuters – telework occasionally in the region, and another 242,000 are interested in starting.
For those employers interested in starting or expanding a program, the Clean Air Campaign offers free resources and consulting through the Georgia Commute Options program. In addition, Georgia will be celebrating its fourth annual Telework Week from Aug. 19-23, which makes this summer a great time to consider this business strategy.
Even though a few notable companies elsewhere are calling it quits so they can work on rekindling their mojo, many more in Georgia are moving forward on telework programs backed by sound strategy and a deep pool of resources.