The ups and downs of telecommuting
HP recently shocked it’s employees and sent a few ripples through the industry when they decided to reign back home working. Their justification seems to be that whilst home-working is great for many senior employees it makes it difficult for junior staff to build their skills and broaden their experience.
I think they make a good point, I agree that telecommuting does create more of a stable state in a persons attitude, they become less ambitious, find picking up new skills more difficult and get exposed to a narrower set of experiences. This focus is fine for people who have already reached a certain level of expertise, although even then they are not as well prepared for disruptions that might come along every decade or so.
In a previous post I described research that indicates that working collaboratively in a co-located team is probably the most effective work environment provided productivity and sustaining innovation is the objective rather than disruptive innovation, so in HP’s case I would support office working if the following was true:
- Team working was essential to the work being undertaken
- The average team member didn’t have to commute for more than 1/2 hour each way
- The office environment was designed for collaborative work teams
- The environment was flexible enough to evolve with the needs of the teams as they change over time
- The teams in the office worked together for long periods of time doing similar work where the primary driver was productivity and continuous improvement
Unfortunately I find all too often that people are asked to work in offices where:
- They do not work in teams
- People often commute for 45minutes or more to get there
- The office is full of cubicles or fixed desking that makes it very difficult to work effectively as a team
- The fixed desks are very difficult to move around, certainly not something the team can do themselves over lunch
- The people in the office are not part of long life teams, ie they might switch from project to project every 3–6 months and often their new project team is not close to them in the office
All that said I also think it’s key that when you send people to work from home that you don’t think you’ve solved the collaboration problem by providing them with email, a team room , audio and web conferencing!
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