Its time to stay at home!

 

I’ve always been a proponent of telecommuting, i.e. the ability to work from home using the current telecommunication infrastructure available. The as all employers (typical of us) – I’m also concerned that am I getting what I paying for – at least I am led to (falsely) believe, employees in the office in front of our eyes would perform better somehow. Well – there are many pros and cons to telecommuting.

First of all – it depends on the type of business you are in. If an employee can work from his/her desk, with the aid of the office computer, telephone/fax and access to the information they need with a bit of interaction with colleagues, telecommuting looks possible. 5 years ago, the infrastructure in Pakistan was vastly different. Today, with the explosion in the telecommunications sector – keep in touch is very economical. You can buy PTCL wireless sets, CDMS (by Supernet called GO CDMA), where you can get Internet access as well as closed loop dialing. Even VPNs is possible. Cellular option is always there – and with Telenor’s EDGE network, browsing is available. Wateen’s WiMax and that of Dancom are also available and covering Karachi quite well.

So – not in theory, but in reality, you can have excellent connectivity between your remote employees and your central office. I as an employer have now been forced to look into this alternative. I use the word forced because for my employees betterment, I need to look at telecommuting as viable alternative.

Most of my employees tend to work late when problems arise. But the localities they live in – its a long commute back home. Some of them rely on public transportation – which by itself could easily translate 1+ hour’s worth of commute either way (realistically the number is closer to 90 minutes). If I can cut-short this time for an employee – it would do wonders for them. Imagine being able to save 4 hours every day – why 4 hours instead of 3? Remember one has to get dressed, etc. for work, you can work in your PJs and I could really not care, you get that extra 3 hours at home. Not to mention the ‘cost’ of commuting to work. Sounds to good to be true? Well – maybe it is, but I for one am going to try to give it my 100% to see that if it can be done.

 

I may not opt for the over-night work-from-home model 100%, but may start small. I could allow each employee to work one-day from home – that by itself is a what I would consider a fair start. Or perhaps assign a fixed number of days in a month from which an employee can set their calendar, for example 6 days out of the 20 working days per month can be ‘telecommuted’. Or alternatively, a fixed number of days can be handed over to the ‘department’ so that within each department 25 days of the total employees working days can be telecommuted. Albeit, I do see an imminent problem with the last suggestion – the ability to invest in infrastructure for each telecommuting employee.

 

The concept of telecommuting is one of the Western world, but it can be adapted and structured according to the current geographical location we are in. The benefits for the company themselves may not be very evident – but I strongly believe the ROI is there. Sometimes, the benefits can be derived in a different way, by agreeing to make employees for example save 5 hours of commute time a week, you could ask for 3 hours of work-from-home (if needed) on Saturday mid-morning (say from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM). Is that not a good-thing? Do we really need an office space for each and every employee? Can we not do without offices? Okay, maybe that’s too bold of a step to take, but can we do away with a percentage of the physical office space?

 

I know for a fact, it will do wonders for employees, who can have their home made food during lunch, spend more time with their families, shave the precious hours from commute – that they can utilize elsewhere? And what about one very important aspect – that of us doing our work for a better environment. One less person burdening the transportation system, one less person emitting carbon-dioxide from their vehicle during commuting (equation may need to reworked for those using the public transportation system), etc. Slowly but surely – you do add to the bottom line (for good or for worse) with respect to the environment – which is a very important but ignored area.

 

Power seems to be an issue – no power (due to load-shedding) and you’re essentially out of business as far as that employee is concerned. Well locally made UPS can give a minimum of 4-5 hours of sustained power to power a laptop, fan, light, phone-charger, (printer-even). So I think we can safely say, the power issue for better or for worse, is settled.

 

Investment – you cannot expect telecommuting to occur without having to invest in the employee themselves. A desk, UPS, stabilizer, laptop, printer, phone, phone-charger, wireless Internet, VPN, etc. all need to be invested. I doubt with such an investment I would want an employee to work only one-day from home. Perhaps the opposite should be true. Only one-mandatory day at the office is required, otherwise, work from home.

 

There is one issue that I could not immediately answer, its the PABX. An incoming call can easily be routed to the desired person, but is the same true for telecommuting? Perhaps not. Maybe there are solutions out there (I am sure of it), but I can bet you they would cost me twice of what I am paying right now.

 

You would loose out on the face-to-face, but then face it (no pun intended) that most of th time when I am interacting with my office employees or with my clients, its via email or telephone, I need not physically be sitting across from them for this to happen.

 

The cost of having Internet is relatively economical, what is costly (so far from what I have seen, the numbers are still not tilting the scales in favor of telecommuting) is the cost of having a VPN or direct connectivity to the central office. WiMax, DSL and even dial-up are costly options and in order to have fast access to the resources on the office LAN, the link speeds need to be between 256Kbps to 512Kbps (it goes without saying – higher capacity welcomes, provided costs are down).

 

I’m not sure as to what concluding statement I want to make with this article, but I want others too to start thinking along these lines – whether or not telecommuting can work from them or not. If nothing else, I am going to give it a pilot try and see how it works out, because not having done that would be conniving of me.

 

Will keep you all posted on it. Your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

Next Article: WiFi – Here it comes …in a big way!

 

Comments

comments

6 thoughts on “Its time to stay at home!”

  • I am all for telecommuting but I feel you loose control as an employer. In Pakistan people have 100 reasons for delayed work including “light nahi hay”. So how to manage that?Also, I find it rather hard to hire quality people who can work from home. Most of the people I interact with get lazy with time.

  • Kashif, on the excuse part, Faisal has already pointed out his scheme of funding local made UPSes which work fine by the way. People who get lazy with time are to be blamed not the model itself. It can easily be argued your hiring to be flawed or management both of which point to you and not the workforce. I may be saying this because I telecommute? Well, may be yes but may be no. I don’t work for anyone and I think working from home works great.I am less stressed than the times when I used to work in an office, it’s more productive. As Faisal noted, I am writing this in my PJs and I hope to get back to sleep again at 9 am and wake up at 11 and get back to work before lunch. This may startle some of the employers but here’s my take:Working from Home is ideal for More Creativity and Happiness and not about Employer’s control over its employees.

    Yeah, there would be problems in the start if you look at the socio-cultural cotext, us Pakistanis aren’t the best of self-governing people and the infrastructure required to telecommute isn’t too ubiquitous. I mean, come on, how many people in Landhi and Korangi can have as many options of Broadband DSL *not the highly localized cable wala* and so on. But I think working closely with your team and communicating (in any remote way) should be able to give desirable results after some time.

    I also find it easier to swallow that more quality workers (at least in design world) work from home/their separate rooms or offices than the ones working in offices. After all, our (Pakistani) office spaces reflect more of the prevailing saith-culture than the more of the creative freedom and sense of belonging.

  • I feel – and this is just IMHO – that you really cannot start telecommuting with new employees. Employees who have been with the company for a few months (if not years) make the best candidates for telecommuting.

  • You’re right, FK. Since telecommuting requires self-discipline and equal organized life (less structure and restrictions though) working from home can not work if things aren’t organized and planned out well. As I mentioned I hardly am answerable to anyone but the deadline is a pressure in itself and if I don’t get organized and productive, its quite damaging. New Employees, as you mentioned, would have little exposure and understanding (with fewer exceptions of course) of working in an organized and productive environment which entertains free flow of ideas and communication at will.

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