As the angst mounts about the job market under current economic conditions it’s important to maintain some perspective and equilibrium. In particular, telecommuters and other teleworkers may begin to chew their nails about impending pink slips. Never mind the reassurance that “out of sight, out of mind” is folklore, what are the realities of the situation?

My answer is: It depends.

If your employer bases hiring/retention decisions on such factors as productivity, effectiveness, loyalty and such virtues then you, seasoned teleworker, are in pretty good shape. We have repeatedly demonstrated that properly selected and trained teleworkers are more productive/effective, loyal contributors to the enterprise. They use less sick leave, take up less office space than their traditional in-office colleagues, and tend to produce an annual bottom line benefit to their employers of one-fifth or more of their salaries. Why would a reasonable employer want to be rid of such assets?

On the other hand, if your employer bases hiring/retention decisions on your golf game, the extent to which you suck up to the boss, how well you dress, whether you’re a dear relative, whether you appear to show up early and stay late (never mind what you actually get accomplished during those long hours) and/or other such political attributes then storm clouds may be brewing; out of sight may truly mean either out of mind or otherwise on the wrong side of the ledger. If you are viewed as a cost, rather than a profit, center then your position may be more precarious in these hardening times. The tendency in the caveman days of our ancestry was to huddle together when under threat. If you’re not visibly in the huddle and resisting the peril, well then…

First let’s clarify the political situation. If your organization is truly totally political through and through then its likelihood of surviving real hard times is slim; your competitors will eat your lunch, dinner and breakfast. Your outfit will suffer the fate of Lehman Brothers. Get out of there now! Start looking for more rational employers or even think of going it alone in a new enterprise of your own. Don’t forget that, as organizations slough off their apparently redundant staff, they may soon realize that they may have overdone it and will need to find replacements via outsourcing. You could well end up much better off than before.

Second, despite all my past maunderings about technology not being the real driver of teleworkability, I now admit that technology can have real impact on the “out of sight…” syndrome. PCs routinely come with cameras these days. Broadband access is available in most urban areas, even in the retarded United States. Soooo low cost videoconferencing is available everywhere, not to mention various forms of social networking to keep you constantly in touch with your workgroup, your suppliers and your customers. This can give experienced teleworkers as much personal visibility as they need but, thanks to the “off” button, not so much as to be oppressive.

I’m not trying to say that teleworkers are invulnerable to economic downturns. If your company has lost a significant amount of its customers, layoffs can come to even the most productive workers. But if the company is saving money by downsizing its space, then teleworkers have an advantage: they don’t need much space and, since they are more productive, etc., may be worth retaining after all. The telejobs may be retained while the locojobs evaporate.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Telejobs”

  1. Hello Jack,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the teleworking and telecommuting. I fully agree with you, and your discussions are quite valid even in Japan, too.

    It seems that only the difference of situations between Japan and the US must be a small amount of teleworkers population despite of an aggressive target setting by Japanese government to have 20% of total number of workers to be on teleworking by the end of year 2010.
    There would be various reasons why the progress is so slow, ranging from geographical reasons, transportation systems, human resource management systems through business culture and practices, etc. As usual, it’d be easy to list up why we can’t move forward. We now need to look at the other side of coin.
    I believe that we Japanese need to challenge to thinking out of box to create new business fields and new work styles as well to survive in the world. The current economic downturn seems to be an excellent opportunity for it.
    Teleworking is not only to change and improve our work styles and systems for both of employers and employees but also has great potential to help new business areas be developed together with and back by the state-of-the-art information and communications technologies. What would you think at this point?

    Akio Saito
    Tokyo Japan

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