A new study from Robert Half Technology has found that telecommuting is becoming more prevalent and popular among IT professionals.
Forty-four percent of chief information officers surveyed reported that their companies’ IT workforce is telecommuting at a rate that is the same or higher than five years ago. Only 3 percent said IT staff work remotely less frequently today than five years ago.
Thirty-four percent of CIOs cited improved retention and morale through enhanced work-life balance as the greatest benefit of allowing telecommuting, and 28 percent cited increased productivity because of reduced commute time.
John Estes, Robert Half Technology vice president, said security improvements have aided and abetted the movement toward telecommuting.
“The thought for so long was that telecommuting is a security risk,” said Estes, who added that security has made great gains in terms of firewall technology and intrusion detection. “Of course, on the other side, the bad guys have gotten a lot more sophisticated in terms of how to enter these databases and firewalls, but overall people feel much more confident about how to keep out these predators and hackers. More people are starting to find that the benefits in terms of attracting, retaining and rewarding employees far outweigh any type of security risk to the company.”
There are other risks in allowing employees to telecommute, and, according to the report, CIOs realize this. Forty-four percent of CIOs surveyed said quality of work suffers because of diminished in-person contact with colleagues. Thirty percent said telecommuting employees are not as productive because they have less oversight.
Estes, however, said this potential disadvantages are not universal, that they depend on the person.
“You’ve got to really look at the individual,” he said. “Some people are definite self-starters, and some have to have daily supervision. Either way, when you’re doing a telecommuting thing, there’s definitely a different level of [oversight] that needs to be had because you can’t just say, ‘Work from home and do the best you can.’ There’s got to be a tighter plan of accountability, like a recap of the week.”
The extent to which the individual telecommutes can also vary widely, and it will present different challenges in maintaining adequate levels of team building.
“If it’s one day a week, it probably isn’t that much of an issue,” Estes said. “If you’re talking about a full 40-hour week, certainly, sometimes people can be perceived as almost like they don’t really work there.”
In companies that accept this risk, however, IT telecommuting has been a success overall, with employees working remotely in a day-to-day routine that resembles a virtual office.
“They’ll come in and print off certain things or use a conference room once in a while, but for the most part, they work virtually,” Estes said.