Alix Stuart is senior editor for human capital and careers at CFO. Additional reporting was provided by Jane Coulter.
Balancing Flextime with Face-Time
When does remote work enhance productivity, and when do employees need to show up? In many cases, technology is a key factor in answering both of those questions. Technologies that equip employees with a true virtual office, including voice-over PC, videoconferencing, and desktop-sharing capabilities, bridge the gap between remote workers and their colleagues like never before.
Flexible work arrangements can also create a refuge from the office din. Plantronics introduced the option about two years ago, and some employees now exercise it for reasons other than scheduling convenience. The company’s head of financial planning and analysis, for example, recently stayed home, away from the noisy cubicle environment, to complete Web-based training for a new software system, says CFO Barbara Scherer. Such arrangements also come in handy when a deadline looms. “If you know you’ve got to crank [it out], you may be better off working remotely some days,” says Green Mountain Coffee Roasters CFO Fran Rathke.
The hard costs for equipping employees with the technology needed to work remotely can be minimal, says Scherer. At Plantronics, for example, laptops with unified communications software allow people to work anywhere, and PC-based calls and conferencing use the company’s own audio devices. Some employees have opted for desktop cameras to enhance the sense of “being there.” As Scherer says, “The goal is to empower associates to communicate and collaborate effortlessly, regardless of location.”
One major inhibiting factor to finance employees working at home, of course, is the need for security around financial data and cash. At Plantronics, communications from laptops to servers are encrypted, and other security practices keep the firm compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley and payment-card-industry rules.
True, a payroll manager who works remotely most days must still come in to the office from time to time to make sure the checks and payroll data are secure. Other than that, Scherer says, “I don’t think people notice the difference, except she has a great personality and it’s nice to interact with her [in person].” — Jane Coulter