Working from home a sure-fire way to stall your career

Jan 23 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Keen to work from home? Great idea - just as long as you're happy to be labelled unambitious and keen to make your manager resent you.

American managers remain hugely sceptical about the benefits of remote working, believing workers who "telecommute" have all but stepped off the career ladder, are troublesome to manage and often difficult to communicate with.

Yet, at the same time, the lure of being able to pad from bedroom to office rather than braving the freeway remains strong among even the most senior managers.

And most executives deep down recognise that getting workers away from the meetings and constant interruptions of office life does improve productivity.

Telecommuting as a concept is becoming an increasingly mainstream part of corporate life in America, fuelled by the stresses of traditional commuting and the rise of home computers.

A study last October by talent and outsourcing provider Yoh found two thirds of HR managers believed working from home would become more commonplace over the next two years, and that eight out of 10 U.S companies already had policies in place to allow employees to work remotely.

Yet two new surveys have suggested that making telecommunting work effectively as a long-term solution is still a challenge for many managers.

A study by recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International has found nearly two thirds 61 per cent of executives believe telecommuters are less likely to advance up the career ladder than their colleagues stuck back in the office.

Yet nearly half of the 1,320 executives polled also said they would consider a job that involved regular telecommuting.

And more than three quarters admitted telecommuters were either as or more productive that office-based workers.

At the same time a survey by teleworking organisation Telework Exchange and the Federal Managers Association has highlighted some of the common problems that trouble managers when it comes to managing teleworkers.

Nearly a third of the 214 managers polled said the lack of face-to-face contact was a major challenge for them.

Managers ranked fear of not having control over employees and productivity issues as their top telework inhibitors.

And nearly two thirds admitted that they had on occasions misinterpreted co-workers when communicating with them by e-mail or phone.

Yet, more positively, the survey also found that the more managers embraced teleworking the easier it became to manage.

"The study highlights the disconnect between the perception of telework and the practicality of telework," said Darryl Perkinson, national president of the FMA.

"While funding seems to be the least impediment, managers must find a balance between performance output and employee supervision before agencies can fully realise the benefits of telework," he added. Managers who were teleworkers themselves and managers who supervised teleworkers were generally and perhaps unsurprisingly more favourable towards telework than managers who did not.

More than two thirds of managers who managed teleworkers found them to be as productive as their in-office counterparts, the survey also concluded.