By Oon Yeoh
When it comes to the topic of telecommuting, I’m biased. I’m a telecommuter myself, so it’s very natural that I’m in favour of it. It works well for me and the people I do work for are happy with my output, so I guess it works well for them, too.
If it works so well why don’t we see it more often in Malaysia? The concept of employees working offsite is still not well accepted here.
Not many people I know are telecommuters although I suspect many of them would like to be. The issue seems to be that not many employers are in favour of it.
The reason is obvious. There is always the fear that employees would “goof off” and not do their work properly if they are not sitting in an office.
But all one has to do is to look at the sales force of any company to see that working offsite can work. Sales people are seldom in the office. They go out and meet prospective clients. In fact, the notion of a salesperson sitting behind a desk all day long is an absurd one.
So, why are employers happy to see their salespeople work offsite? Again, the reason is obvious. Salespeople are measured by results. If they bring in sales, they’ve done their job. It doesn’t matter what or how they do things outside. What’s important is that they deliver the results.
But why can’t that principle be applied to other areas of work? In many instances it actually can.
A graphic designer can work offsite. So can a copywriter, a computer programmer, a corporate communications officer, a web-master, an accounts clerk, and many others. But such workers – unless they are freelancers – are usually required to sit in an office during working hours.
It’s certainly possible to assess them by the results they produce in their respective fields – just like you do with sales people. Yet that doesn’t seem to be happening. I think a big part of it is work culture. Traditionally the only workers who go out during office hours are sales staff. Everyone else stays in the office.
Hopefully, this will change over time. There are studies that show that productivity actually increases when someone is allowed to work from home. A Stanford University study on a “work from home” experiment at CTrip, a 16,000 employee NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency, showed that working from home led to a 13% performance increase, measured by extra minutes of work put in and extra calls made per minute.
The extra working time was due to fewer breaks needed and fewer sick days. Meanwhile, more calls were attributed to a quieter working environment. Following the success of the experiment, CTrip rolled-out the work-from-home option to its entire workforce.
There are other reports that show the benefits of telecommuting. A 2009 Cisco teleworker survey – an in-depth study of almost 2000 company employees – found that the increased productivity due to telecommuting generated an estimated US$277 million in annual savings for the company.
Not only that, the study (conducted to evaluate the social, economic and environmental impacts associated with telecommuting at Cisco) revealed that a majority of respondents experienced a significant increase in work-life flexibility, productivity and overall satisfaction as a result of their ability to work remotely.
Perhaps what local companies could do is to try out telecommuting programs on a few non-sales staff and monitor their output. If telecommuting delivers positive results, they can roll out the program to even more employees. Of course if it doesn’t work out as hoped, they can always scrap the program.
In the ever-competitive marketplace, it pays for companies to eke out as much productivity from their workforce as they can. And telecommuting is one way to do it. Even a survey that’s sceptical of telecommuting, from the California State Polytechnic University, said that it was difficult “to find published materials that indicate telecommuting does not generate productivity gains, or that gains are less than 10%.”
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 9.4% of people now work from home at least one day a week, up from 7% in 1994. So the telecommuting trend is growing. And it’s global. In the UK, telecommuting increased by 13% between 2007 and 2012. Isn’t it time Malaysian companies also hop onto this bandwagon?
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.