HP reins in telecommuting for IT staffers

But the company says it's still committed to a flexible workplace

Hewlett-Packard Co., which gained national recognition for its flexible workplace practices, is pulling back on the ability of some of its IT employees to work from home.

The employees are part of the IT organization run by HP's CIO, Randy Mott, who was appointed just over a year ago after stints at Dell Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Mott is now in the midst of consolidating more than 85 worldwide HP data centers into six, as well as creating a centralized view of data for the company. The telecommuting change, which Mott had telegraphed at Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in March was confirmed today by HP.

"The IT organization has made a specific business decision to provide guidelines that locate more team members together in several core sites to facilitate face-to-face interaction and increase team effectiveness," HP spokeswoman Emma Wischhusen said in a written response to questions. The number of employees affected by the change isn't being disclosed, but it's "a small fraction" of HP's 150,000-employee workforce, she said.

"The HP IT organization continues to provide flexible work arrangements and telecommuting where appropriate commensurate with any IT organization in the Fortune 50," Wischhusen said.

HP said it has 11,400 employees who telecommute, most of them in the U.S., and the company's policy on flexible work and out-of-office work has not changed. Telework arrangements are still available to those employees for whom it's appropriate with management approval, according to HP.

Gil Gordon, a telecommuting consultant in Monmouth Junction, N.J., said he gives Mott the benefit of the doubt and "assumes that he came into a situation where there was some kind of a problem that he was brought into fix and chose to deal with it with an all-hands-on-deck approach." If that isn't the case, said Gordon, then the decision to curb telecommuting "looks terribly shortsighted -- assuming there were no other problems."

Gordon said restrictive telework policies may make it difficult for the company to recruit and retain IT talent.

Indeed, in Computerworld 's most recent annual Best Places to Work in IT survey, respondents cited telecommuting as an important facet of their jobs, with 36% of respondents giving it a rank of 10, or "extremely important."

In the U.S., HP has been ranked 16th in a list of the top 20 best workplaces for commuters, which includes telework programs, carpools, bus bases and other benefits, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Intel Corp. was ranked first, with 92% of its employees eligible for commuter assistance; HP reported that 46% of its employees are eligible.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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