Building the Telework Business Case: Productivity

June 4, 2013

3d blue Diagram with arrow


I always get asked about the impact of telework on employee productivity.  Over the years there have been a number of case studies and research in the public and private sector that show how positive results due to teleworking.  Here are just a few:

  • A March 2008 study between the Telework Exchange and the National Science Foundation (NSF) found that 87% of NSF managers felt that productivity increased or at least remained the same for their teleworkers.
  • Results from a study of Cisco employees released in 2009 revealed that the company saved an estimated $277 million in productivity by letting employees telework.  69% of surveyed employees cited higher productivity while teleworking.
  • 79% of teleworkers in a pilot program for the General Services Administration claimed that their productivity increased while teleworking.
  • A study by Brigham Young University found that telecommuters could work 19 more hours than office-bound workers before feeling that work was interfering with their personal life.
  • A 2008 study by CompTIA of 212 IT professionals, 67% said increased productivity was their primary benefit from telecommuting. Survey respondents said that productivity improvements primarily resulted from the ability to work during the time employees would otherwise be commuting to the office.
  • According to Innovisions Canada, surveys and pilots conducted by IBM Canada (where about 20% of its workforce teleworks) indicate that teleworkers can be as much as 50% more productive than when they work in a traditional office setting.
  • AT&T workers work 5 more hours at home on average than their office workers and JDEdwards teleworkers are 20-25% more productive than their office counterparts (According to a Chicago Sun Times article in October 1999).
  •   American Express teleworkers produced 43% more than their office based counterparts and Compaq teleworkers increased productivity by 15% – 45% (from the Colorado Telework Coalition).
  • British Telecom, which has 80,000 employees, found productivity rose 31% among its 9,000 teleworkers (according the Telework Coalition –
  • Maryland Department of Transportation employees who telework (approximately 100) reported a 27% increase in productivity (according the Telework Coalition –
  • Dow Chemical claims productivity increases of 32.5%: 10% through decreased absenteeism, 16% by working at home and 6.5% by avoiding the commute (according the Telework Coalition –
  • A Telework Exchange study (“Face-to-Face with Management Reality”) revealed that 66% of managers who manage teleworkers find that teleworkers are as productive as their in-office counterparts.

Had enough?  There’s plenty of data on the internet to help you build your business case when it comes to productivity.  Productivity is one of the biggest, and most researched, benefits of telework.

Good luck building your case!





What are the Attributes of a Good Teleworker?

May 21, 2013



Recently, someone asked me about the attributes commonly found in good teleworkers.  Obviously, the attributes that you would expect to find in any good employee applies to teleworkers.  However, I believe there are 5 key attributes that can contribute teleworker success:

  1. Problem solving/resourcefulness – Teleworkers and remote workers often have to resolve problems on their own.  It can be a little more challenging than asking someone in the office next door for help.  Teleworkers have to work with autonomy and in some cases, fend for themselves.  From handling the technical challenges that may arise in their home office to navigating the virtual workplace, teleworkers should be able to work through problems and find solutions on their own.
  2. Communication skills (verbal and written) – Considering that teleworkers communicate primarily over email or the phone, written and verbal communication skills are a necessity.
  3. Self-discipline/organized – Many people can’t work from home because they are easily distracted by the home activities around them or they lack the ability to create and follow a daily plan.  Good teleworkers can manage their time effectively, can focus on the tasks that need their attention, and meet deadlines.
  4. Assertiveness – Extroverts usually make better teleworkers than introverts.  Why?  When you are dealing with people through cyberspace, it’s easy for others to forget you if you don’t make your presence known (a.k.a. “out of sight, out of mind”).  Good teleworkers stay engaged and ensure others know they are part of the team by building a virtual presence.
  5. Relationship oriented – Teleworkers are not soloists.  Often they work within or lead virtual teams.  Team building when team members are just a voice on a conference call can be daunting and it takes skill and talent to overcome the natural distance to pull people together.  Teleworkers may rely on a mix of direct and indirect (matrix) relationships to get their job done.  Therefore, building relationships is a necessity.

What’s on your list of needed attributes?


The New Definition of Presenteeism

May 14, 2013

Car keys


I used to work in a traditional office setting in a large office building.  It was your standard cubicle farm.  Directors and Vice Presidents had their offices at the end of a series of office cubes where their employees worked.  The boss only had to step outside her office door to see the tops of the heads of employees as they worked behind their computer monitors.  Everyone was visible, and everyone was working.  At least, that’s what management thought.

  One of my coworkers liked to carry around two sets of car keys.  Why?  He would throw one set of keys on top of his desk next to his keyboard and then take off for an extended two hour lunch in the middle of the afternoon.  When people came around to look for him, they would see the car keys on top of his desk and immediately assume he was still in the office building somewhere, most likely in a meeting in one of the numerous conference rooms.

The moral of the story is obvious: just because employees are co-located in an office together doesn’t necessarily mean they’re productive.      

Traditionally, presenteeism has referred to employees that attend work while sick.  However, in today’s workplace many are realizing that presenteeism isn’t about ailing workers in the office, it includes workers that are present but not producing any work. 

Measuring the cost of unproductive workers is often difficult.  Studies conducted on the traditional definition of presenteeism have found that the average cost per worker in the United States is about $255 annually.  However, the cost of present but unproductive workers is far higher.  According to a survey by Proudfoot Consulting a few years ago, almost 29 percent of company time in the US is unproductive.  The estimated cost of poor productivity is a whopping $600 billion and is the equivalent of 33.5 days per worker annually. 

Obviously, the huge loss of productivity is not due to employees running around with a couple sets of car keys in their pockets and taking two hour lunch breaks.  However, it does point out that not all the time people spend in the office place is value added work.  Telework can’t fix all the productivity problems within an organization but it can have a positive impact.  Effective managers of teleworkers know that they can’t manage through attendance.  They have to develop tangible managers of success.  When this is done, employees have to deliver results and an employee’s time is time spent working.



Are Remote Workers Under More Scrutiny?

April 24, 2013

remote working

Call it the Yahoo halo effect, but other companies are starting to become a bit more explicit on their working arrangements.  Unless you’ve completely disconnected yourself from the internet over the past month, you’ve seen the buzz created by Yahoo when they pulled the plug on all of their telecommuters and required everyone to work in the office.

Friends at one large Silicon Valley company told me last week their company was not eliminating telecommuting but was clamping down on remote workers.  In many organizations we use the terms telecommute, telework, remote working, mobile working, and flexible work arrangements synonymously.  However, there are some key differences.  Here are my quick, over-simplified definitions:

 Telecommuting: First coined by Jack Nilles in 1973, it has historically referred to replacing the physical commute to the office with telecommunications.

Teleworking:  Often used interchangeably with telecommuting.  In some organizations it refers to fulltime telecommuters.  As one friend put it, “You can telecommute 1 day a week and come to the office 4 days or telecommute 4 days a week and come into the office once, but as soon as you telecommute 5 days a week you’re a teleworker.”  Not sure if I agree with that definition, but that’s how some see it.  In my opinion, telework is just the updated version of telecommute.

Mobile working: The ability of employees, with appropriate tools, technology and flexible workplace policies, to perform work either inside or outside an organization in a way that accommodates multiple modes of working.

Flexible Work Arrangements:  Working a full or part-time schedule, but adjusting start and end times to accommodate personal needs or commitments which allow employees more choices in managing their work schedule.

Remote Working: Working in a location where the employee will have no physical interaction with customers/clients or other employees.  Usually refers to arrangements where employees have no access to an employer’s workplace.

In the terms used above, the first 4 imply that the employee has access to the physical office place where other employees are located.  The last one, remote working, does not.  Because of this, some remote workers feel like they have a target on their back.  The ones I spoke with claim that they suffer from a sort of virtual bias.  In their view, mobile workers, telecommuters, and teleworkers can at least make an appearance in the office and meet in person to prevent others from forgetting them.

Without any data to back these claims, I’m not sure if I want to give into this fear.  I think it is important to remember why an organization would want a remote worker. Here are some basic reasons:

  • Talent/skill set.  An organization may be looking for a specific set of skills or talent that is unavailable near the company location.  Bringing work to the employee, versus bring the employee to work is the only option.
  • Cost.  Many companies are looking to reduce costs and it may be cheaper to have an employee in a low cost area versus near a company or client location.
  • Time.  It’s possible that having employees in different time zones may benefit the company.  Either having a remote employee in the same time zone as clients/customers (think customer service functions) or employees in far away time zones that can work during the company’s normal off hours.  The latter, known as a “follow the sun” approach is designed to increase productivity.
  • Experience.  Although I haven’t seen this used it’s possible that tech companies with products or services that serve the virtual workplace may intentionally have remote workers to use as proof of concept or show customers that the company practices what it preaches.

Given these reasons, I don’t believe remote working is going away.  In fact, I would expect to see the number of remote workers increase over time, just as the number of teleworkers and other virtual workers continue to climb.

What do you think?




The Never-Ending Quest to Write a Better Email

April 2, 2013


Considering how long email has been around, you would think that most people would have this down by now.  The length, content, and style can be a source of frustration for many recipients.  Unfortunately, email has become the primary means of communicating for many companies.  Ironically, I constantly see something like “written communications” in performance appraisals or job descriptions, yet few organizations I’ve worked with offer any sort of training or guidelines to help employees in this regard.  Here are a few quick guidelines to think about before you hit the Send button:

  1. Use alternate means of communication.  Before you draft your email, think about how else you could get your message across or query answered.  If it is a simple, straightforward question that needs an immediate answer, use instant messaging or send a text.  Better yet, pick up the phone and try calling the person to talk live.  In many cases, email should be the last, not the first choice.
  2. Be careful with the “Reply All” button.  People I work with have a fascination with the Reply All button, especially when responding to a large email distribution list.  You may be clogging up someone’s inbox by replying to everyone.  Ask yourself if everyone really needs to be included before responding.  If you are asking a large audience a question, read point 1 above.  Do you have an internal discussion board, blog, or other social media to get others involved?  If so, use that instead.
  3. Keep it brief.  Since many people have an inbox with hundreds of emails stacked up, it’s likely they’re only going to spend approximately 1 minute reading yours.  If recipients have to scroll down to read your message, they may just put it off to later, or worse, never read it entirely.  Remember the acronym BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front.  Make your point or ask your question in the first line of the email.
  4. Keep it concise.  Do you enjoy talking with someone that is longwinded?  Likewise, most people don’t enjoy longwinded writing styles.  This is a little different than the point above.  In this case I’m referring to sentence structure.  Short, clear sentences speed up reading.  Long run-on sentences slow down reading.  Use as few words as possible to convey your message.  Use bullet points instead of writing entire paragraphs.  Simple, common words are usually better than using words that will force someone to Google the definition.
  5. Spelling and grammar still count.  We all make mistakes.  Sometimes we let an email go without spell checking or proofreading it.  However, keep in mind that your communication is a reflection of you.  If you are working virtually, and the only way people identify you is through your electronic communications, then this is especially important.  If you are constantly sending out emails with spelling errors or making common errors, such as confusing “their” with “they’re,” then recipients may eventually form a negative perception of you.

Happy communicating,




The Things We Take for Granted When We Communicate

March 12, 2013


Recently, I was on a conference call with my IT department.  I was walking them through the business requirements of a recent change in policy.  That policy change would cause changes in the online tools employees were currently using.  The change was a bit complicated.  They didn’t understand the taxonomy the business used.  They didn’t understand all the steps in the process.  An hour later, I hung up the phone and wondered if they really understood what the business needed.  It was frustrating to see the least.

It reminded me of an old story I heard about a US business that was acquired by a British company.  The US leaders, anxious to keep their business, presented several initiatives and projects to their new boss.  The head British leader responded to each project review with the word, “Brilliant.”  The US leaders, not realizing that this was the equivalent of saying “interesting,” misinterpreted it as the go ahead to begin work.  A few months, and a few million dollars later, the US leaders were shocked when all work was   stopped and they were reprimanded for wasting company funds.  The point is, when we communicate in the virtual workplace, or just across functional departments or geographic lines for that matter, there are many things we take for granted. 

There are several things you can do to help improve communications within your virtual team, even if you’re technology is limited. 

Taxonomy.  Different groups or functions within an organization often use a different set of terms or language.  In my case, I was using terminology that came directly from the legal department and was very, very specific.  I kept finding myself correcting my counterparts because they didn’t understand the importance of the specific words being used.  In retrospect, it would have been helpful to spend a few minutes during the first meeting to walk everyone through the taxonomy used.  Perhaps a quick reference list provided to all team members would have helped too.

Visuals.  To use the old cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words, or at least a good 15 minutes on a conference call trying to explain yourself.  As much as I hate create a deck of PowerPoint slides just for the sake of creating slides, it’s often easier to walk people through a chart, process map, or provide some reference point.  People will hear and interpret things in different ways.  If 10 people are on a conference call, you may get 10 different versions of what the problem/goal is or what needs to be done.  Leave nothing to chance by spending the time to prepare and create some visual aids to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Leverage technology available.  Technology can greatly enhance communication.  Desktop sharing applications ensure everyone is looking at the same thing at the same time.  Video conferencing allows you to watch body language and judge whether people understand.  Shared spaces can ensure version control. Virtual whiteboards allow people to think out loud while engaging the rest of the group.  All of this can help.  Use it.

Follow up and document.  Always follow up and document the conversation, points made, actions to take, etc.  Again, leave nothing to chance in the communication process.

Good luck,



Celebrate National Telework Week: March 4 – 8, 2013

March 4, 2013


This week is the third annual Telework Week, sponsored by the Mobile Work Exchange (formerly the Telework Exchange).  It’s a chance for all organizations, both public and private, to  join the telework movement, whether that means trying it for the first time,  expanding existing telework programs or practicing your disaster recovery and COOP planning.  Interested individuals or organizations can pledge their commitment to telework by going to the Mobile Work Exchange website.

 Last year, more than 71,000 pledged, saving $5,651,890 on commuting costs, gaining back 251,774 hours into their day, and removing 3,453 tons of pollutants from the air, while refraining from driving 6,413,006 miles.

Telework Week provides a good opportunity to get your leaders and organizations involved in telework.    Leaders and employees may find that work practices used next week should be continued throughout the year.

 Happy celebrating,