To Telecommute or Commute?

Excellent article by Christopher Cornell at HRE in today's HRE Online titled HP Reins in Telecommuters.

A little background if you are not aware of this story. Randy Mott, formally with Wal-Mart and Dell, became HP's new CIO last summer. Mr. Mott recently informed all the telecommuters in his IT division that they had to start coming into the office by August. HP even agreed to pay relocation costs for employees who lived greater than 50 miles from work. Some people think the reason for Mr. Mott's decision was abuse of the generous HP policy (e.g., people not working when they are supposed to be working). While HP did not comment for the HRE story, Mr. Mott commented a few weeks ago and said employees who come to the office are "the most effective in terms of accomplishing the task and the goals at hand." Critics think Mr. Mott's decision will backfire and place HP at a competitive disadvantage for recruiting and retaining IT talent. The reality is nobody really knows what will happen to HP as a result of this decision or the real reasons why Mr. Mott made the decision.

The great thing about Mr. Mott's decision is that it brings the topic of telecommuting to the public square for debate. It is an important business discussion to have because telecommuting can play a very strategic role for companies. Jet Blue uses it to gain a competitive advantage. At our own company,, most every employee works at least one or two days from home each week - some work as many as three. I am convinced that because of telecommuting we have happier, more productive employees and lower operating costs (e.g., we don't need as much square footage).

When people ask me if I am concerned people are not working at home my answer is always no. Good managers know the day-to-day workload of an employee and know if the work is getting done. Personally, I do not care of someone is at the park or coffee shop working on their laptop so long as the work is getting done and they are reachable by email/phone. But what about call center employees? Jet Blue seems to do just fine with their Stay-At-Home Work Force.

In places like Bangalore, India (and some days in the Bay area of California or Washington DC) it can take several hours to travel twenty or thirty miles - and there are no feasible public transportation options. This is terribly unproductive time that telecommuting can turn into productive time. Telecommuting naysayers talk about the "career" risks of not being in the office. A Blog posting by BabsonKnowledge titled The Truth about Telecommuting talks about how "no senior executive ever got where he/she is by telecommuting or exclusively working from home.". For some business cultures, this is certainly the case although I think it is becoming less of an issue at many companies.

The late great Peter Drucker whose business ideas were always ahead of their time and always seemed to have the last (and correct) word on business topics said about telecommuting, "commuting to office work is obsolete. It is now infinitely easier, cheaper, and faster … to move information … to where the people are." Good luck HP.