Another misguided survey

On January 17, 2007 the Los Angeles Times Business section had an article titled: Telecommuters may go nowhere — careerwise on its front page. The article’s focus was in the third paragraph:

“Telecommuters are less likely to get promoted than peers who head into the office every day, according to a global survey of 1,300 executives released Tuesday [January 16th] by Los Angeles-based executive search firm Korn/Ferry International.”

On the other hand, the article ended with:

“Despite their hesitations, 77% of the executives said they would consider taking a job in which they regularly telecommuted . . . .”

Hmmmm. What’s sauce for the gander . . .

What the survey really shows is widespread ignorance about proper management of teleworkers in general and telecommuters in particular. The promotability of telecommuters is largely a cultural issue. If an organization promotes its employees based on their performance, then telecommuters have an advantage; their higher productivity moves them toward the top of the ladder. If an organization bases its reward system on political factors, such as who is sucking up to the boss — or who arrives early at the office and leaves late, then telecommuters may be at a disadvantage.

My philosophy is that a Darwinian approach is appropriate here. The politics-based organizations will be eaten by their competitors, Enronized. The results-based organizations will survive handily with their expanding (because of market share and profitability growth) staffs of telecommuters.

It’s all a question of good management. Good managers have no problems with telecommuting. Bad managers are terrified of it. But appropriate training can do wonders to turn organizations around.
The focus of this training must be on management by results rather than by looking around. Here’s the hard part: the manager and employee must agree beforehand on what work is to be done (specific objectives), what the results of that effort must be (acceptance criteria), and when the task is to be completed (schedule) during the telecommuting period. The manager and employee must also agree that the employee has the proper tools, training, communications skills and experience to perform the required task(s). Once this is all taken care of the manager’s job is to go on to other matters; the telecommuter’s job is to perform as agreed.

Simple, no? This is exactly what happens in organizations that are telecommuting successes. It is probably what rarely happens in the organizations that have promotion problems with telecommuters.

Actually, promotability is one of the most common problems we have with telecommuting demonstration programs. These are programs during which extensive performance data are gathered over a considerable period: many months to a few years. The problem is that telecommuters keep getting promoted out of the units involved in the programs, thereby truncating the data flow.

But, provided that these successes increase the amount of telecommuting, I suppose that the promotions constitute happy trouble both for the telecommuters and their employers–not to mention the telecommuters’ families, the environment, global warming, and so on.

I just hope that the next time Korn/Ferry International or some other group surveys executives they will first categorize the respondents of the survey by the level of telecommuting-oriented training; work rules and procedures; and technological support their organizations give to both telecommuters and telemanagers.

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