The convergence of economics and technical advances increasingly make telework a necessity instead of a wish-list item for businesses today. It’s my belief that those organizations not using available technology to enable and expand their own virtual work force are leaving a windfall unclaimed.
I came to Logicalis from an organization where nearly everyone worked under one roof, and I admit to being somewhat skeptical about the idea of expansion via virtual workers. That was five years ago and since then I’ve been won over by benefits like these:
Flexibility and savings
As a CFO, my goal is always to have flexibility in the overall cost base, so it can flex up or down with changes in sales volume. That’s a fundamental rule of profitability. From an IT perspective, this typically means converting costs from one-time capital expenditures (capex) to monthly recurring operating expenses (opex) that can adjust with operating conditions. (I wrote about shifting expenses from capex to opex in my CIOUpdate column Why CIOs Should Shift from Capex to OpexTo the extent I can eliminate fixed-costs such as long-term leases for office space, telecommuting provides much more flexibility and the ability to take better risks.
Logicalis has grown rapidly in the years since I joined, but our number of physical offices has actually declined as we’ve leveraged unified communications technology to enable teleworking. I don’t have to pay rent or buy office equipment and desks for offices we no longer need. And I don’t have to worry about how much space I may or may not need for the next five years. In fact, today nearly 30 percent of Logicalis employees are completely virtual and more than 50 percent telework at some point during the week.
Expanded talent pool
In my opinion, the most crucial benefit companies realize from enabling telecommuting is the expansion of their talent pool. It is clearly a competitive advantage to employ the very best people, but it’s usually impossible to find them all in just one town or city. Extending the telework option removes geography as limiting factor and allows you to attract the very best talent wherever they are. Being able to telework has also become a must-have especially for a younger generation of workers who have grown up with smartphones and social networking.
Another key benefit that teleworking provides, right behind recruiting talent, is improving overall employee morale and retention. When you tally it up, the costs to hire someone, get them up to speed and then lose them are simply enormous. Teleworking allows you to both attract highly skilled employees and provide them the kind of flexible work environment that is suited to their customer interaction and their lifestyle. And that gives you the best odds that they will stay.
Enabling telework does require investing in collaboration tools like mobile phones, IM, presence and videoconferencing. But what people find is these core collaboration tools help make employees more productive whether they are at headquarters, at a customer site, or somewhere in between. This effectively distributes the cost of your investment across your entire workforce. Everyone benefits from increased communications, wherever they work.
Needless to say, the implications of telework extend beyond just the technology that enables it. There are important cultural and managerial issues to be addressed along the way. Telework best fits results-based roles that employ management-by-objectives. Teleworkers must have a crystal clear understanding of expectations to perform their jobs effectively from remote locations. It is also true that many back office and clerical tasks that require hands on interactions between employees don’t lend themselves to telework. It’s not for everyone.
Telework can also present a variety of challenges to be addressed by major stakeholders, including the human resources department. But the benefits from a financial and managerial point of view most often justify the incremental communications and policy effort.
No matter your personal view (or reservations), the writing is on the wall in this age of advancing mobility. There is no disputing that we all work in an increasingly borderless workplace. The pace of change is accelerating and attitudes and expectations are changing just as fast as the technology; generally faster than your corporate policy. More people see their work as something they do, not something they travel to.
Those organizations that stop treating teleworkers like an exception to the office-bound workforce can gain distinct competitive advantage. Providing telework is becoming a prerequisite for hiring and retaining the best people. And, in today’s business world, those organizations with the best and brightest people are going to succeed.
I recommend talking to your CFO about ways to enable telework in your organization. The technology to enable telework is readily available. And from a financial point of view, it’s definitely a winning proposition.
Greg Baker is the chief financial officer for Logicalis, an international provider of integrated information and communications technology solutions and services, where he oversees finance, accounting, treasury and strategic planning. Prior to joining Logicalis, Mr. Baker held key finance positions with Thomson Reuters, a Tier-1 automotive supplier, private equity firm Talon LLC, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.