In or Out: The Unexpected Telecommute Pivot

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Just when you’re getting your business on the telecommuting bandwagon, the pioneers of telework seem to be jumping off. IBM, for example, began supporting telecommuting in the 1970’s, but now it’s shifting toward more collocation. Yahoo famously encouraged its employees to work from home, only to rescind all telecommuting in 2015. Bank of America, among others, is cutting down on telework in favor of collocation.

According to a report in All Tech Considered, HR analysts cite two primary factors pushing employees back into the office: the wisdom of expertise, and the speed of technology. Experienced workers are a valuable resource for new-hires, and millennials say they want to watch their older peers in action. Younger workers report feeling disconnected and unmotivated when they can’t learn from seasoned co-workers.

Technology figures into the collocation equation as customers expect ever-faster responses to work orders and problems. Marketers are getting campaign results in real time, and product developers receive feedback in hours, not weeks. Whenever there’s an issue, it can often be more quickly addressed by a collocated team rather than a distributed group that may be separated by many time zones. “Watercooler moments” of serendipitous conversation can lead to breakthroughs, and visible face time is valuable when a promotion is in play.

Yet there are still good reasons to telecommute. Employees like the lifestyle balance, employers can secure the best global talent without relocation, and studies show a mix of telework and collocation is actually healthier than a daily commute. There’s also the consideration of overhead: Office space is expensive, and if you don’t have to house all your employees all the time, you’re saving money.

Telecommuting isn’t going away, and the current swing toward collocation can be seen as a movement toward balance. There are good arguments on both sides, and like most questions, one-size-fits-all is not the answer.

The primary key to balancing telework and collocation is flexibility. For offices, that means being ready to change personnel capacity easily and quickly. As teams come and go, adaptive furnishings that set up in minutes and store compactly allow office spaces to expand or contract their seating capacity on an ad-hoc basis. High-density mobile shelving and vertical storage carousels carve out additional space for workstations without enlarging the existing footprint.

There’s another vital element to the telework-collocation balancing act: Communication. For a flexible office to function well over time, all the productivity stakeholders must communicate their changing needs. Team leaders, HR, and facilities management are all part of balancing telework and collocation. Make sure the communication channels are functioning well, and your business can enjoy the advantages of both telecommuting and collocation, in a flexible environment.

 

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