December 2009

Telecommuting: A Real Value?

Telecommuting vs. Face Time

By: Veda Informatics

Telecommuting is possible and successful because of the increasing sophistication achieved by all the modes for communication, including telephones, cellular phones, computers and fax machines. Recent trends in telecommuting include conference calling, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and videoconferencing.

What is Telecommuting?

For those who may not understand, Telecommuting refers to a “work from home” model, in which employees do not need to travel to a centralized office and work during specific hours. This form of employment is also known as e-commuting, e-work or working at home. Although the work arrangement is generally perceived as working from “home,” one could be working from varied locations (including cyber cafes) across the globe.

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The rapid penetration of the Internet and increasing bandwidths have encouraged telecommuting among businesses around the world and this trend is growing at an exponential rate. Major companies, including eBay, Goldman Sachs, Yahoo and Principal Financial Group, encourage telecommuting and a flexible working environment.

Advantages of Telecommuting

There are several advantages of telecommuting – for the employee, for the employer and for the society.

Advantages of Telecommuting for the Employer

  • Building a diverse labor pool: Telecommuting helps to acquire employees from across the globe. This helps to form a rich pool of people having specialized knowledge.
  • 24/7 operations: Telecommuting helps companies offer its clients around-the-clock services.
  • Global reach: With technological advancements, markets are not restricted by geography.
  • Cost saving: Telecommuting helps a business control costs. This includes the costs associated with setting up a bricks and mortar office, acquiring furniture and other physical assets and incurring overhead expenses, such as electricity bills and rent. According to a report by Undress for Success, an online resource site, companies in the US were able to save over $260 billion annually by adopting telecommuting.
  • Facilitates organizational alliances: Organizations from different parts of the world can now collaborate for a project or a business deal without incurring huge travel and hotel expenses. The communication is faster and more coherent than traditional electronic means.

Advantages of Telecommuting for the Employee

  • Saves time and money: Telecommuting eliminates the daily commute to and from the office. This helps to save time and money.
  • Healthier family life: Telecommuting creates more time for recreation and for the family, helping people to strike a better balance between their professional and personal lives.

Advantages of Telecommuting for the Society

  • Equalization of opportunities: Telecommuting facilitates the employment of marginalized groups in the population, such as single parents, the physically challenged and people living in remote regions.
  • Environmental benefits: Telecommuting helps to control air pollution as it reduces vehicular commute, which creates a large amount of carbon dioxide emissions. It also helps to reduce traffic congestions and fuel consumption.

Face Time: Complete Communication

The need for face time in businesses is constantly questioned by the advocates of telecommuting. Teleconferencing, webinars (web seminars), videoconferencing, emails, cell phones, voicemail and instant messengers are increasingly replacing physical meetings and face-to-face conversations.

Despite phenomenal technological advancements, face time interaction still has an edge. This is because communication is complete with face-to-face conversations. Facial expressions and body language act as guides for judging various parameters, such as urgency or intensity of a situation. Face time interaction deploys all the senses – sight, sound, feel, taste and smell – to complete the communication.

Face Time: Why?

Even though telephone and the Internet create some degree of personal touch, they can not entirely substitute face time and face-to-face communication. Hence, for a business to prosper, it is crucial to have some degree of face time. There are a few important advantages to having this face time…

When people smile at each another, shake hands, share a joke or eat lunch together, they form a bond that cannot be replaced by electronic communication, they build a relationship. Face time helps to strengthen employer-employee relationships and fosters team building. Training and mentoring become more effective, with relationship building. Face time also facilitates verbal acknowledgment and recognition, which provide an unmatched sense of value to the employees.

Having a proactive approach to face time communication helps to judge the attitude of employees, assess their confidence level as well as identify activities they are uncomfortable with. This allows a company to take necessary actions well in time.

The absence of face time could create a sense of isolation among employees. This is fueled by our sense of belonging. They may not be as driven or work to their maximum potential towards achieving organizational goals. Face time helps to align personal goals with organizational goals and encourages employees to take ownership of the tasks assigned to them.

Face time builds credibility. It also enables one to judge a tricky situation better by reading into facial expressions and body language. Moreover, it is easier to be stern or even say “no” via email. However, present and prospective clients are much more pleasant during a face-to-face conversation.

Greater time efficiency is also created with face-to-face communications. Face time also facilitates quick decision making regarding smaller tasks. A ten-minute meeting daily can help the team stay in touch with the bigger picture and therefore perform better.

This personal interaction also removes the threat of technology bottlenecks. As we all have experienced, the use of technology is vulnerable to failures and breakdowns. It is also subject to the loss and misuse of information and security. Face time cuts these issues out

For those companies who like to see what their employees are doing, face to face time gives them better control. In the absence of supervision, as in telecommuting, employees may become more callous.

Face Time: A Survey

RoperASW and TANDBERG conducted an international study in 2003, surveying approximately 625 business professionals across the US, the UK, Norway, Germany and Hong Kong. The survey revealed that communication other than face-to-face discussions lead to:

  • Confusing conversations, hindering sound decision making (81% of the respondents said that face-to-face communication was better at reducing confusion)
  • Low trust among all parties (90% of the respondents believed that face time was best at establishing a high level of trust among all parties)
  • Low accountability (75% said face-to-face meetings were better at making people more accountable)
  • Missing information (the study found that only 27% of people read complete emails)

Even though in the fast paced business environment, face time can not always be effectively incorporated. The long-run success of a business depends heavily on a proper intermix of both telecommuting and face time.