Flexible Work Breeds Loyal Workers


by Samuel Greengard

The ability of humans to invent technology far exceeds our ability to use it effectively.

Today's topic: telework.

You'd think that with all the blather about Web 2.0, smartphones, mobile connectivity and cloud computing, the modern enterprise (and IT departments) would flock to telework like moths in a spotlight. You'd think that the bean counters who increasingly rule the corporate world would drool at the prospect of trimming office space and infrastructure.

If this were a quiz show, we've just reached the point where a loud buzzer goes off and your earnings board resets to zero. The sobering reality is that only about 20 to 25 percent of employees participate in telework and the growth rate has actually slowed over the last few years.

Yes, dinosaurs still roam the earth. Too many managers continue to believe that if they can't see someone working then the person isn't working. This thinking is doubly amazing in an era of outsourcing. True, there are legitimate concerns about security. Lost laptops and USB sticks are an all-too-frequent scenario. But we all know that it's possible to manage these risks with the right security systems and training.

Something's got to give. In addition to growing cost pressures, executives are staring down the barrel of a largely unspoken problem: working conditions have deteriorated over the last several years. Today, everyone puts in way too many hours, handles twice the work of a decade ago, and is wired into Command Central 24 x 7 x 365.

If you're going to be owned by a company than you at least want some say in how you approach work and where you choose to do it. Not surprisingly, younger workers are beginning to revolt--and others aren't far behind.

In a recent survey by Cisco Systems of 2,600 workers and IT professionals in 13 countries, 60 percent of respondents believe it's unnecessary to sit in the office to be productive. The study also found that company loyalty and choice of jobs is linked to flexibility. Two-thirds of respondents said they would accept a job with less pay and greater flexibility.

Cisco has a stake in ramping up the adoption rate for networking systems, videoconferencing, collaboration software and other tools. But underlying logic is valid: enterprise thinking has to change.

The reality is that running the 21st century office like a 19th century factory is downright dumb. The tools exist to monitor employees, gauge their contributions and let them soar or stumble on the sole basis of what they produce.

Break down the walls. Build the IT bridges.