The trouble with telecommuting

Telework can change office dynamics in ways you hadn't anticipated. Here are six questions to ask before you say yes.

3. Will creativity suffer?

Beyond the hours-vs.-output debate, there's a larger question that pertains particularly to jobs where deliverables can't be easily quantified: Are you getting the same level of intellectual investment from your remote employees as you would if they were in the office?

In software design, for example, creative ideas can be the most valuable output. Should you measure performance based on creativity? Will workers be more creative at home -- or less?

Maybe you should measure quality rather than quantity. If so, what constitutes high quality? The answer will depend on the person and the type of job. The important thing is to have a frank discussion of what's expected -- including intangibles like creativity -- before you allow an employee to telework, with the understanding that the arrangement could be changed if expectations aren't met.

Today, all seven of Spiegel's employees telework. The difference, he says, is that they are all senior-level people whom he personally hired. Thanks to stock options and equity interest, they are highly motivated.

As an added bonus, Spiegel doesn't need office space at this point in his young company's development.

Even so, he advises managers to proceed with caution. "If I had to go back and manage a support team at a Fortune 1,000 company, I'd take a different stance," Spiegel says. "I'd want more control over what teleworkers are doing."

4. How will telework affect collaboration?

Think about the culture of your organization and how the employee fits into it. Some people are naturally creative, innovative and inspirational, notes Robert Keefe, president of the Society for Information Management and senior vice president and CIO at Mueller Water Products. These people stimulate discussion and generate ideas, and others like to work with them.

"Some people are like the gel that holds the organization together," says Keefe. The organization would lose something if those people worked remotely 100 percent of the time. "That's a very soft intangible, but something that's often overlooked in team dynamics," says Keefe.

Communication is a related factor. Some companies are more reliant than others on informal communication, where an employee just walks down the hall to IT to solve a problem or hash out an idea, Holbrook notes. Moving a key IT employee out of that picture could upset that delicate balance.

For example, Intel relies on a high level of collaboration, according to Intel CIO Diane Bryant. The company found that projects were completed much more efficiently when all the IT workers were at one site rather than spread out over two or more sites -- or in remote locations.

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