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IT workers to management: NOW can we telecommute?

By Howard Baldwin
February 14, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Which techies get to telecommute?

Does that mean CIOs can simply fling open the doors to the enterprise and set their people free? Not exactly, experts caution.

In deciding who can and can't work remotely, sources agree that it depends on the employee's level of hands-on work and collaboration. "Supervisory roles, roles that involve hardware management or strategy and business planning -- those people need to be close to the action," says RHT's Reed. "Roles that require writing code and doing phone-based technical support are easier to do remotely."

That means anyone dealing with deskside support -- never. Business analysts and project managers charged with collaborating with users -- rarely. IT managers -- rarely.

Annis agrees that it's "difficult, but not impossible" for IT managers to work remotely. What's more feasible is telecommuting once a week. "It's important that I'm here," he says. "I'm the eyes and ears of development" -- which means it's important for him to interact face-to-face with the business side when necessary. Occasionally, though, he'll steal away from the office to work on a specific project.

In fact, many CIOs who have implemented telework for their IT staff recommend this. "Any work that requires your full concentration but does not require collaboration is better suited to be done off-site," says Niraj Jetly, CIO at Edenred USA, the U.S. division of a global developer of employee benefits and incentive solutions in Newton, Mass.

"A task that requires four to five hours of concentration can easily take two business days in the office," Jetly observes. "If I have to write an RFP response, and I've already brainstormed with the functionality team and I just need to write it down, it's ideal to do it from home."

That said, there's one group of employees who shouldn't work remotely, regardless of their job responsibilities: employees whose productivity drops off outside the office. This happens for several reasons, IT executives say.

Sometimes employees lack an isolated workspace at home and can't escape family members, pets and other distractions. "For some people, the office may be quieter than the house," says Peter Campbell, senior vice president of IT at Sprint in Overland Park, Kan.

Other employees lack the discipline to work without physical supervision -- which they're sometimes aware of, though not always. "Some employees will self-select out of telework," says Nancy Crouch, deputy CIO at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. "They'll admit they're not disciplined."

Other times, the discovery process is more cumbersome. Annis revoked the telecommuting privileges of a couple of employees who didn't perform when they were first given such privileges, then ended up terminating those employees later when they couldn't perform internally either. "Telecommuting wasn't the issue," says Annis. "It was their work ethic."

Telework as a corporate problem-solver

At times, telework isn't just a perk for deserving employees but a problem-solver for the organization.

For example, Sprint uses telecommuting to address overcrowding. More than 30% of the 2,500 IT staff members work from home on any given day, says Campbell; up to 70% either work from home either permanently or periodically. That includes everyone from hourly to salaried workers.

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