Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Decline of Telecommuting

Remember Marissa Mayer? Remember the firestorm she provoked when she banned telecommuting at Yahoo! All reports suggest that she had good reason to do so. Yet, some feminists decided that her actions were an abomination because they prevented women from staying at home with their children and also working. Others insisted that she was out of touch with history, because telecommuting was the wave of the future.

Of course, Yahoo! was not the only company that permitted the practice. Now that people have gotten used to telecommuting, it is not all that easy to get the toothpaste back in the tube. Yet, companies are now beginning to follow Mayer’s lead and to question, if not abolish, telecommuting.

Bloomberg reports:

While telecommuting, the umbrella term for any work occurring outside the traditional office, has ballooned over the last 20 years, some offices are rethinking overly broad policies. Flexible work remains popular at many organizations, but most companies want workers at work at least some—if not most—of the time. More than 60 percent of organizations surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management this year said they allow some type of telecommuting, up from 20 percent in 1996. But telecommuting comes in many flavors, and 77 percent of organizations don't let people work from home on a full-time basis. Most employers allow ad-hoc remote work for the person who needs to stay home for the plumber or wait for a package. 

Telecommuting eliminates interpersonal interactions. It makes each individual employee a monad and reduces the effectiveness of teamwork and group cohesion:

At the same time, work has also become more team-based. Only 38 percent of companies are "functionally" organized today with workers grouped together by job type, a 2016 Deloitte survey found. Most comprise collaborative groups that shift depending on the work. Deloitte found that one California organization was made up of over 30,000 constantly shifting teams.

IBM has been cutting back on telecommuting, slowly and clearly. One notes that the once proud tech giant has now experienced “20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue.” This does not seem to bode well for the company.

Bloomberg explains:

International Business Machines Corp. is one such company. Earlier this year the tech giant told 2,000 U.S. workers they could no longer work from home and about the same number of employees that they had to commute into offices more often. Facing 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue, IBM hopes that bringing people back together will lead to faster, more productive, and more creative workers. (A 2012 report from IBM found (PDF) that companies with flexible work policies reported improvements in productivity and cost savings.) 

IBM's strategy is about adopting the best work method for the work being done," said an IBM spokesperson. "For example, small, multi-disciplinary teams of engineers, coders, project managers and designers work in close proximity, often directly with clients or end-users, continually generating and refining ideas.

Rihcard Laermer, head of a public relations firm, has found that having people be present in the office has benefited his company:

Having everyone in the office has had "quite a positive impact" on business, said Laermer. Meetings are more productive, and employee morale has improved, he said. Laermer claims that employees "didn't mind" losing their freedom. "Youngish people need structure," he said, adding that they have small apartments and might not have a good place to work, anyway. He still offers flex time and lets workers leave at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays

"I think people have to be trusted," Laermer said.  "But the working-from-home thing has to be on a per-person basis, and it can't be very often. It just doesn't work.


James said...

I remember that one of the pro points of tele-commuting was that a company would not need as much bricks and mortar facilities. Well they ran into an iron law of reality "nature abhors a vacuum" those "empty" facilities filled back up with other people just as fast as they emptied out.

trigger warning said...

And there's the obvious global warming angle:

"The environmental benefits are obvious: teleworkers don’t commute, meaning their cars don’t log the 32 miles per day roundtrip that is the American average (according to this 2005 poll by ABC News and the Washington Post), and thus don't emit all that carbon."
--- On Earth, 2011


James said...

Yeah, those cars just simply drove all kinds of miles to lot's other places not called "work".

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Telecommuting only works for piece rate functions. The outcome has to be clearly defined. If that is how someone's productivity is measured and compensated, it doesn't matter where they work. But those applications are limited, because of the exposure to automation.

And once again, we see why multitasking doesn't work. Work-from-home is good for professional mothers? Says who? Where does one think their attention goes? Work or kids?

I work out of my home, but I eat what I kill. I work for myself. I have all the motivation in the world. My productivity is ruthlessly measured.

James said...

I'm actually pro telecommute as I am almost all technology. It's just that old dictum I learned doing something else keeps popping up "If it can be abused, it will be abused". In the incarnation I have lived through as a "Boss" I have little cared how a job got done as long as it got done. Yes, I had to require a certain minimum of behavior (you can't just lay down and do nothing, etc etc)but if the described task was accomplished I didn't care. Now granted this puts more pressure on you as a boss to know if the job is getting done and done correctly.
So I won't be too long an illustration, back in the 80's you saw the introduction of drug testing into the industry I work in. It was accepted mostly on the premise it was administered by the companies themselves. I have been very opposed to this in that made me a "policeman" which should not be the case. I argued that Supervisors should know if a person is incapable of performing and have the power to remove them for that reason alone, well I lost that one. So look what we have now. Telecommuting is just an invitation for more abuse, not withstanding those that perform (as you do) as they should. Those that abuse it will destroy it.
Well that was a hastily written mess, more coffee.