Editorial: Making cents out of teleworking

Teleworking, like every aspect of business, should be measured by how much it contributes to the bottom line

When it comes to important national business I don’t suppose a report on teleworking is high priority.

Even so, it was promised on the website www.teleworknz.co.nz that at the conclusion of New Zealand’s official Telework Week, launched by ICT Minister Amy Adams in November last year, that a report would be released on how businesses who participated fared.

It’s March 2013, so where is the report? After phone calls to Adams’ office, Crown Fibre Holdings, and then a Telework Week sponsor Cisco, I found it.

Not a report, but a press release with the actual findings taking up just three paragraphs:

“New Zealand’s inaugural Telework Week closed with participants gaining nearly 1500 productive hours by working flexibly during 12 – 16 November.

“Summary data from the week shows that employees from 35 different public and private sector organisations participated in the week, 60 percent of which were drawn from local government and technology sector organisations.

“Participants teleworked an average of 2 days during the week and collectively saved $34,591 in transport costs and prevented 90.4 kgs of emissions from going into the environment.”

The release had been dutifully issued about a fortnight after the official week. But I was prompted to track it down now for some local information about teleworking, after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s now famous edict that from June Yahoo employees can no longer work from home.

According to US news reports, Mayer banned teleworking after checking the VPN logs and finding that some employees weren’t logging in enough. Her logic appears to be that if they aren’t logging in, they aren’t working. And that’s got to have an effect on the company’s performance.

Yahoo is not top dog in its sector, it lost the number one spot to Mayer’s former employers, Google (she famously joined as employeer number 20) and, as many Telecom customers whose Yahoo/Xtra accounts were hacked will know, it has a long way to go to get back on top.

Mayer clearly believes that getting everyone working in the same environment is a good start to turning the company’s fortunes around. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu meetings,” she wrote in an internal memo leaked to the press.

Since Mayer’s email went public, there’s been a lot of talk from analysts about the impact that banning teleworking will have on employee morale and that elusive thing called “company culture”. But this kind of HR-speak doesn’t explain how teleworking can return money to shareholders and, at the end of the day, that is the primary reason why a company exists.

The major issue with teleworking, I think, is that it’s always dressed up in the wrong clothing. It’s heralded as being cost efficient, environmentally friendly and creating a work/life balance.

Take that press release from New Zealand’s official teleworking week. The benefits it reported on were from participants who entered details about their experience via an online calculator, which has since been removed from the website.

The release goes on to say that if the organisations maintained the same rate of teleworking, “New Zealand would gain 9,470 eight-hour work days, save $1.8 million in travel costs, and prevent 4.7 tones of emissions going into the environment.”

Quite apart from the fact that I think those figures are unproven, what do they actually mean to businesses trying to make a buck?

Teleworking shouldn’t be an employee right or privilege, it should be a way to increase the bottom line. Which is why you can’t expect someone who regularly works at home to be incentivised in the same way that they are in the office.

If teleworking is going to be beneficial to a business then change the way employees are incentivised. Pay a teleworker in outputs, and then measure teleworking’s success by whether it boosts the bottom line.

And, if there must be a second New Zealand Teleworking Week, then for goodness sake produce an actual report at the end of it which lists the organisations who participated and the methodology used. A once-over-lightly press release just gives working from home a bad name.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments