See You at the Office

Telecommuting isn't the revolutionary workplace change many assumed it would be, but it still could grow now that best practices have emerged.

Ten years ago, Sue Sachdeva became the first CFO ever quoted in CFO magazine on the subject of telecommuting. She offered a strong endorsement of the concept, in no small part because by telecommuting she was able to continue working for Milwaukee-based Koss Corp. even after she had relocated to Texas.

A decade later, despite moving back to the Milwaukee area, Sachdeva still telecommutes an average of two days a week. Many assumed that by now Sachdeva’s experience would be common, but the progress of telecommuting has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Sachdeva, in fact, remains the lone telecommuter at Koss. Estimates on the prevalence of telecommuting vary widely, depending on how a telecommuter is defined, from 4 million to as many as 29 million workers. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 21 percent of all companies offer a full-time telecommuting option, 33 percent offer a part-time option, and 48 percent permit it on an ad hoc basis, with larger companies far more likely to list it among their perks than smaller companies. Those figures have remained almost constant for five years.

Some consultants say the pace of adoption may increase now that best practices have emerged. Thorny issues such as determining when an employee is and isn’t on the clock, how he or she can be reached, and what equipment the company and employee will provide are rarely sticking points these days. Sachdeva says that her telecommuting experience “has opened management’s eyes” to the fact that “the world is a much smaller place.” The company has signed on for legal and IT services from companies based far from Milwaukee, something that Sachdeva says would have been “less likely” prior to her experience. As for employees, “companies aren’t really looking for telecommuters,” she says, “but they may offer [telecommuting] as a way to keep people.”

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