Can't Trust This Telecommuter

from the there-goes-that-plan dept

For all the talk about how we’re soon going to be a nation of telecommuters, thanks to new technologies, Broadband Reports points out a study that shows one very big hurdle: most employers still don’t trust their employees to work unsupervised. The study was done in Australia, so there’s a chance the results wouldn’t apply elsewhere, but it does seem like something that is likely to be a major hindering factor for many potential telecommuting opportunities. Of course, it’s not just the bosses that don’t trust telecommuters: 75% of employees think their telecommuting co-workers are simply goofing off and “are not working at all.” At some point, however, someone is going to do a little cost-benefit analysis and realize that office space is a pretty big cost, and trusting your workers to actually do what you’ve asked them to do could actually pay off. Of course, on the flip side, expect to see many new technologies, applications and services to help solve this problem by somehow “monitoring” the work of telecommuting employees — which is likely to make most workers only feel even less trusted.

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Comments on “Can't Trust This Telecommuter”

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TJ says:

Where I am in the USA also

I work a Sunday through Thursday shift when the rest of my office is Monday through Friday. Sundays allow me to maintain software systems that staff would freak out to have down during the work week. It is effective, and makes intricate processes much less error prone thanks to minimal interruptions and distractions. The planned tasks clearly get done, I’m quite productive, and I get no complaints about my work. But you wouldn’t know that from the grumbling of some coworkers, who by the way would have a fit if asked to work on Sundays. Management waivers sometimes on the arrangement not because it isn’t working, but because some managers are inclined to oil the “squeeky wheels” despite the lack of an actual problem.

dorpus says:

IT Whining Syndrome

It should come as no surprise if the company decides to transfer the IT department to telecommuters in foreign countries, then.

Fact is, non-IT people often need help with someone physically present to look at their computer problem. They do not want to deal with some whiney ITer who wants to stay at home. IT people will come up with their vast array of excuses, accusing non-IT people of being “stupid” for having a computer problem.

Bill Smith says:

Re: IT Whining Syndrome

It’s true that IT people are the only technical specialists who are expected by management to talk people through solving problems over the phone.

If you have a problem with a car you take it to a garage and come back and collect it in a few days when it’s fixed. If you have a health problem you make an appointment with the doctor – you will probably have to wait a few days for an appointment to be free. An electrician will call at your house to fix a problem I am waiting for one right – he has told me when is coming – it’s about 3 weeks from now. People generally expect to wait for technical specialists to get round to fixing their problems. But for some strange reason this doesn’t apply to IT where instant solutions are always expected – hence the need for over the phone support.

sorry guys says:

not going to happen for a long long time

Telecommuting is simply not going to happen on a large scale. Managers simply won’t go for it because a) they don’t trust employees and b) it weakens their own position.
They’d rather outsource somewhere halfway around the planet, than trust an employee to work at home 5 minutes away.
If you think that this is going to change anytime soon, you’re sadly mistaken. Why would a manager put themselves in a position where it makes them look increasingly redundant? They won’t! Managers want to build empires, not save money for the company.
The idea you can keep tabs on employees by some technical means is pointless, because it would end up with an ‘arms race’ of monitoring and spoofing tools that goes nowhere. Just the suggestion that an employee could rig a monitor is enough to derail the entire idea altogether.
You guys keep looking at this from a technical perspective, but it’s really all about people and power. Logically we could all be living happy lives in a land of candy and fairy floss, but we aren’t because people are… people. Logic and expenses be damned.

dorpus says:

Re: not going to happen for a long long time

Yes, a typical blame-management attitude. Thing is, we do not expect doctors, electricians, or auto mechanics to stay at home and tell customers to fix their own problems. For some strange reason, IT people think that the rules of ordinary human conduct do not apply to them.

K says:

Re: Re: IT is more than just Help Desk

Yes, a typical blame-management attitude. Thing is, we do not expect doctors, electricians, or auto mechanics to stay at home and tell customers to fix their own problems

Radiologists, Electrical Engineers, automotive designers, people in all of these careers telecommute.

What says IT is synonymous with help desk? DBAs, programmers, sysadmins, security, QA, all of these are skilled positions that do not require the practitioner to show up in a cube farm at 8AM each morning.

. For some strange reason, IT people think that the rules of ordinary human conduct do not apply to them.

Only a tiny subset of IT staff actually have a position that requires daily hands-on mucking about with the hardware.

I build Sun Solaris servers — we have four people on site at each of DC/NYC/LA who do the basic “fit all the right parts in the box, slide it onto the rails, plug in a few cables” part of getting a system ready for the OS. I do my job remotely, never even see the hardware for 80% of the servers I deploy and maintain.

So in our Corporate IT department of 100 people, we have a dozen technicians who need to be on site to physically install servers and swap tapes and do the general “technical operations” duties, another half dozen in “executive support / desktop support” to do the hands-on “fixing of people’s computer problems, plus two guys to make sure that the remote access servers are up and accessible 24×7.

That leaves 80 employees (80% of the staff) free to work from home, if only management would see the light.

K says:

9-5 versus Results based contract work.

The problem with salaried “staff” employment is the concept that the company is buying your time, your exclusive loyalty to the business from 9-5.

Once you let them “own” you for a third of the day, it’s only natural for your owner to want to be able to keep an eye on “their” employees during this time.

I’ve found that while a company will not trust a salaried employee to “work from home”, they have no problem outsourcing specific tasks to a contractor who will only get paid if they turn in acceptable results, on time.

If a company is willing to pay me $15K to port an application from Linux to portable POSIX source, and they want the results by the end of September, it doesn’t really matter to them whether it takes me fourteen hours or a hundred and forty, whether I do it in four days and spend the rest of the month hanging out at the beach or plug along putting in a seven hour day for the next three weeks.

If a company is paying for results, all that should matter is that they get the results they paid for.

thecaptain says:


The sad part is that management doesn’t realize how little actual work gets done IN the office as well. Or rather how long actual daily work TAKES.

In my example, as a programmer/analyst I deal with maybe 3-4 people, usually by email or over the phone, the rest of the time is spent designing and implementing or doing paperwork. Its not the sort of thing you can do constantly, you sometimes get stuck, you sometimes get distracted. Most of the time there’s the office gossip who drops in to chat, the phone call from a friend, surfing of techdirt to clear out the cobwebs.

I’m sure if they had a manager flunky staring at most of us 100% of the day, they’d realize that (by their metrics) only a couple of hours of work gets done due to the intangible creative process…

conversely..when I do get to telecommute, I find I get at least 3-4 days worth of work done simply because I have less distractions, my work environment is 100% tailored to my needs and tastes, I’m more comfortable and time is more flexible. My bosses have commented on this, I’m one of the lucky few who have bosses who are intelligent and understand all this.

acousticiris says:

Trust issues?

As a salary employee (exempt), I am paid to “do” not to “be.” I don’t punch in, I have flex time, and I am allowed to telecommute when I find it necessary.
When I work at the office, I’m in a small room in the corner of a test switch which is in the corner of a real switch. Nobody can see when I come and go. My boss is in a different time-zone, and his boss is in a different country. So keeping a close eye on me is almost impossible anyway.

I have too much to do to goof off regularly…And when I do telecommute, it’s generally at very odd hours (working a shift from 1:00P to 3:00A to complete a production update).
Once supervisors/bosses start to judge their staff on the actual contribution they make to the company, they won’t care a bit about staff telecommuting. If you’re getting the job done on time and the way it’s supposed to be done…who cares where it’s done from (and in some cases…between which hours it is worked on!)? And dare I say, who cares how many hours that employee puts in, as well? In the true philosophy of “exempt” employment, you’re not paid by the hour of labour. This is an excuse to not pay overtime, but the door sometimes could swing both ways.

I have too much on my plate to put in 40 hours. I regularly work well over that, and I’m paid accordingly. The only proof that I exist is the work I produce. That’s how I’m judged. If I was not producing, I’d be let go (believe me!).

Sometimes my working from home allows me to get to and from a dental appointment on my lunch break…in the work scenario, I would have probably taken half the day off for such an appointment since work is 32 miles from my home.

…and yes… sometimes while things are compiling, I reply to blog entries 🙂 But we all do that at the office too!

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

This is the same scenario that causes grumpy hippies to call you lazy unless you get up at 4:00AM.

Anyone who has ever worked second or third shift, knows that those who work first shift LOVE to call you lazy because you sleep through the morning hours? despite the fact that you never call them lazy just because they knock off early and go to bed just as you are starting work.

The problem is not with the employees goofing off or the managers being hard-asses. The problem is with the ?American work ethic? that states that in order to be considered a valuable member of society you must be early to bed, early to rise, and put in a full days work?

Why do you think that UPS tells people that they get more done before 5Am than most people do all day? Not because they work in offices – but because it resonates with the American public? ?Look – they work hard? and EARLY TOO!?

GoodBytes (user link) says:

Some examples PRO telecommuting

I am a software developer, working for over 3 years for US companies, while I live in Europe. The first 2 years I was going to work in my local company, and this last year I work only from home. During all this period, I never had a problem that I could not solve because I was at home, and I was never late with my project schedule.

Another story: my local company develops and sells software to companies in my country (Macedonia), but also in the surrounding countries. The software is developed in my company’s offices, but some people can work from home if they want. After the project is finished and the software is installed at the customer’s site, we continue with education, and then with maintenance after that. All this is done remotely, and only in very small number of cases we send someone to go to the customer’s offices – usually when there is a hardware problem (and in case we are maintaining the client’s hardware, too). And, if the client is far from us, e.g. in another country, we have a partner-team located there, which can resolve hardware or communication problems. Thanks to all this, some of the software development team, the QA team, and the consultants and the CR team can work from home.

What I want to say is that the technology makes it possible for people to work remotely, giving them more time (to work and to rest), making them more productive, allowing them to work at more flexible hours, and also allowing them to promptly solve problems in so many cases.

And, since everybody in the food chain is happy, starting from the managers, through the clients, and finally the workers, where is the problem?

Anonymous Coward says:

Face time

I’m considered an exempt employee in the IT department of the private 4-year college where I work. The emphasis from my supervisor is not placed on production, but on the amount of time spent at my desk. Also, face time is a consideration.

I firmly believe that the number of hours worked means nothing next to output, however my supervisor has stated directly that this work is “not to be considered like factory work”, “work weeks are often going to be longer than 45 hours”, and “40 hours is the minimum work week.”

Also, work done from home has absolutely zero weight here. For example, being home sick yet spending all day working on a large project and producing great results? Still counts as a sick day because I’m not at my desk doing the same work.

It’s time for employees to raise the standards bar for what we expect from our employers; this can’t forever be a one-way street with employers constantly expecting more from employees without going above the bare minimum requirements themselves.

Steve Tring says:

Why is everyone so keen to do telecommuting? Because they have worked out they can help their employer by being more productive? Yeah right. The real reason is they want an extra hour in bed in the mornings and don’t want the hassle of travelling to work. I have to interview prospective employees and I never employ anyone who asks about telecommuting. If someone goes to a job interview and the main thought at the front of their mind is how little time can I get away with being in this office cannot have much in the way of commitment or enthusiasm for the job.

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