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FCW : April 30, 2013
Commentary | ALAN BALUTIS, PATRICK SPENCER ALAN BALUTIS is senior director and PATRICK SPENCER is director of Cisco Systems' Internet Business Solutions Group. NORMAN JACKNIS is director of IBSG's Public Sector Group. As experienced teleworkers, we nd ourselves somewhat surprised by the widespread attention the general media has been paying to the subject recently. Telework is in the news because of decisions by Yahoo, Best Buy and others to end the practice within their organizations. According to the memo sent to employees by Yahoo s human resources department (and later leaked to the media), "Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discus- sions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacri ced when we work from home." It is interesting how polarizing the term "telework" has become. At one end of the spectrum are advo- cates who believe telework offers answers to a number of major business challenges --- and there is growing evidence to support this contention. There is also ample evidence to suggest that productiv- ity goes up, workers are happier, and people achieve better work/life balance when they have the option to telework. At the other end of the spectrum are those who question the value of telework from the perspective of organization and culture, informal and interactive learning, the chal- lenges it creates for coordinating and organizing work, and others. Furthermore, there is research that supports the argument that physical proximity stimulates innovation, one of the purported reasons behind the recent deci- sions to end telework. For example, a study of some 35,000 academic papers found that the best, most widely cited research came from co-authors who worked less than 10 meters from one another. The same study, however, sup- ports coworking (another form of teleworking) and its role in inno- vation. "How closely they worked mattered as much as, if not more than, their af liation," said the study s author, Isaac Kohane of Har- vard Medical School. "Coworking s combination of casual relationships and shared spaces can lead to some of an employee s most fruitful collaborations." In other words, sharing space with anyone, not just your organi- zational colleagues, can promote innovation. In contrast, there are those like Melissa Thomas-Hunt, a profes- sor at the University of Virginia s Darden School of Business, who believe that proximity does not necessarily lead to better collabo- ration. According to her, the rise of email and other technology has reduced the need for face-to-face encounters. "The reality is that we re often in the same of ce space, and yet we re sending emails to one another," she said. "Any time you have individu- als trying to work together, there is potential for a communication breakdown." The return on investment for telework is quite strong. According to the Telework Research Network, if employees with appropriate jobs who want to work from home did so half the time, companies could save more than $500 billion a year in costs related to real estate, elec- tricity, absenteeism, turnover and productivity. And if the desire to increase innovation is driving decisions to eliminate teleworking, there are other strategies, such as coworking, to consider before ending telework altogether. Only time will tell if eliminat- ing telework at Yahoo, Best Buy and elsewhere will bring bene ts to those companies in the form of increased innovation, greater pro t- ability and/or higher stock prices. Leaders have to do what they believe is right for their organiza- tions at any given moment. How- ever, they also have to consider the organizations long-term needs. Elimination of telework is a step backward during a broader trans- formation of work. ■ Another take on the telework debate Recent decisions to eliminate telework at major companies show a lack of understanding of the practice's bene ts There are other strategies, such as coworking, to consider before ending telework altogether. AND NORMAN JACKNIS April 30, 2012 FCW.COM 15
April 15, 2013
May 15, 2013