Flexible Workplaces Demand Cultural Change

July 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM

A recent Frost & Sullivan survey of more than 1,000 IT decision makers in the US and Europe reveals that, on average, more than 1/3 of employees work either remotely (typically from a home office) or from the road (i.e. mobile workers) on a regular basis. This won't come as news to anyone who has been following workplace trends over the past few years. What's more surprising, frankly, is the fact that that number hasn't changed much since we've been asking the question. Why is the move toward a flexible workplace so slow to grow? Certainly, there are some industries which are simply not suited to virtual workers--retail stores need clerks on site, restaurants need servers, production lines need actual hands, and so on. But among companies with a large base of so-called knowledge workers, the issue is likely cultural: many managers and execs still can't seem to figure out how to handle remote workers. This article at HuffPo offers some good insight into some of the changes required. What do you think?


Re: Flexible Workplaces Demand Cultural Change

July 24, 2014 at 1:01 PM
Excellent post. You are correct in IDing the inability of managers and executives to manage workers who are "sight unseen" as a major stumbling block to telework.

The workplace is now and becoming mobile, global, and remote. Executives and managers no longer have the practical ability to "see" all of their staff and teams while they are working. That era ended with the advent of the laptop and the cellphone. Bottom line: if managers and executives don’t know how to manage remote workers then should either learn, or find another career.

But there is another stumbling block to telework, which are the huge subsidies and cost biases favoring offices and commuting that creates a large corporate inertia against change. Employers receive “free” roads and mass transit systems and they can offer parking and transit to employees as tax-free fringe benefits. Meanwhile aggressive corporate real estate agencies and divisions negotiate generous tax abatement freebies from economic development agencies. But there are no such offsets for telework.

Here’s the rub: employers who do not have telework policies, and who require employees to commute, are worsening employees’ quality of life by adding unneeded stress and out-of-pocket costs resulting from commuting, are forcing healthcare costs to rise, and they are accelerating our planet’s demise.

Roads, parking, mass transit systems, and buildings consume huge swaths of life-giving greenspace, wetlands, and farmlands, while vehicle use is responsible for air-damaging and health-harming emissions, from energy extraction to consumption and disposal. Offices themselves are “germ factories.” Meanwhile emergency services as well as health costs escalate from vehicle “accidents”.

All of the factors incur steep costs. And "green buildings" don't offset them if employees have no other choice but to drive to work. But none of these costs are attributed back to the source, which are the employers’ decisions as environmental resource consumers, including whether or not to offer telework, and to reduce their size of their building, transportation, and environmental footprints.