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Productivity and telecommuting: myth or reality?

Many managers want butts in chairs.

They want to see heads hunkered over the keyboards, fingers tapping away or voices chattering away on the phone with customers and clients.

Like Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, who commanded all telecommuting employees back into the office this summer.

women holding her baby near a laptop

© Orangeline | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

She noticed a lack of productivity and, worse, a serious absence of employees logging into the virtual private network.

Mayer believes communication and collaboration are best fostered in a “side-by-side” working environment.

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings,” she said. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

The truth is, however, that distractions at the office threaten speed and quality of work, too.

Is the water-cooler chatter about what happened on last night’s Survivor more valuable than a conference call to share milestones and goal-setting?

An Ipsos Global Public Affairs survey, released in January 2012, revealed 65 per cent of telecommuters around the globe believe their remote work enables them have more control over their work life.

“It gives you the opportunity to work when you are most productive,” said Keren Gottfried, research manager at Ipsos.

“You are working when you know you are best able to get the work done.”

Heck, that’s true. While some are good at adhering to a 9-to-5 schedule, others prefer a day that allows some freedom.

Like me … a writer. Some days, the inspiration to craft words into brilliance may not strike until 10 p.m.

Other days, I’m OK with early-morning work. (Coffee, please …)

Still other days, I can wake up at 3 a.m. with an idea and need to fire up my laptop.

I consider four factors of telework the most beneficial to my productivity:

✔ The short “commute” from home to office
✔ The freedom to create when it strikes me
✔ The absence of people peering over my cubicle walls to chat about the weather, the news or life in general
✔ The ability to talk out loud, to myself, and work through an idea without bothering anyone else

And when I need to connect with the bosses, they’re just an email or phone call away.

Scott Edinger, a leader of leaders, wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog post that virtual work and traditional office work shouldn’t necessarily be stacked up against each other as one being better than the other.

The key, he said, lies in effective communication, whether you’re in the same building or working from home.

Proximity, he said, can breed complacency.

“I’ve worked with leaders who sit in the same office with those they manage but go for weeks without having any substantive face-time with them,” he wrote. “In fact, they may use email as their primary source of communication when they sit less than 50 feet away.

“It’s even worse if they sit in different parts of a building — or all the way on another floor. This is not to say that these leaders are in any way lazy — just that because the possibility of communicating is so easy, it is so often taken for granted.”

What about you? Do you find the lines of communication are more open when you’re telecommuting?

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