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Telework distance: How close is too close?

Anyone who lives in a metropolitan area knows what a headache the daily commute can be, whether you drive or take public transportation. The D.C. area has repeatedly made the list of worst congested areas, and last year ranked first, with drivers spending a yearly average of 74 hours stuck in traffic. 

Government transportation officials acknowledged the problem with congestion. But instead of urging more use of mass transit, Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton promoted telework as way to alleviate the clogged roads. 

Telework not only leads to more productive and happy employees but it also saves energy, keeps costs down and helps save the environment, making it a “great win-win for all of us,” the secretary said.

But while it makes sense to allow telework for employees who have long commutes, should the same option be given to those who live near the office? A reader yesterday submitted an interesting quandary, asking others to comment on whether an employee who lives close enough to walk to work should have the telework option. 

“She lives less than a mile from work. She could walk. Would you allow her to telework when it's obvious she wants to be able to go to the store when she wants, watch a TV show when she wants, etc.? She is a good employee, but from everything I've read, the intent for all this to reduce pollution. She will drive more when teleworking and cause a bigger carbon footprint, simply because she can. Is this a good idea?” asked the reader.

Cindy Auten, general manager at Telework Exchange, suggested the reader look beyond the benefit of reducing pollution when evaluating telework and consider the bigger picture. Good questions to ask are: What other benefits will you recognize with telework? Can you reduce office space by having employees work remotely? And can you remain operational in the next weather-related emergency with teleworking employees?

“The ultimate question to ask is, will this employee be as or more productive when working remotely?” she said. “Oftentimes, employees find that a home office or remote location is more conducive to productivity. If the employee is a good employee, they will most likely be a productive employee regardless of where they are sitting. Focus on the work that they do, and the ‘where’ won't matter as much.

A reader responding to the question pointed out that the original poster had jumped to the wrong conclusion way too fast. “Your assumption that she ‘really’ wants to drive around town all day and watch TV is so old-school that, for me, it's a tip-off that management style in your office should be more closely examined. Isn't her performance objectively measured? If so, what's the problem? Why be so judgmental about the motives of an admitted ‘good employee?’” The reader suggested setting up a trial telework arrangement to see if it would work for the reader’s team.

Another reader suggested that an employee living close to the office shouldn't be an automatic disqualifier and pointed out that the lack of trust was a bigger issue.

“What's troubling is that you say that she is a good employee, yet you seem to indicate that you couldn't trust her to work if she was teleworking,” that reader said. “Are you evaluating her performance now through results? If so, with a strong telework agreement and open discussion about expectations from the get-go, should be no change in the evaluation methodology.’

Do you agree with the original poster who hints that telework should be primarily for those with long commutes? Is “pollution reduction” a good reason to push for telework? Do the reasons even matter if the employee has a track record of being productive and reliable?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 02, 2012 at 12:19 PM


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