Organizations can overcome common roadblocks to working remotely, but it’s important to demonstrate telework success by measuring the return on investment, experts said at the Mobile Workforce Exchange’s fall 2013 town meeting in Washington, D.C.
The Sept. 12th event focused on overcoming challenges to implementing telework in the federal government. Those obstacles, said Rebecca Ayers, Ph.D., manager for performance management solutions in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, include:
Security issues that prohibit employees from using their own mobile devices.
Budget. Federal agencies don’t have the money for equipment that would enhance IT security.
“We’d rather keep people’s jobs,” Ayers said during a panel session.
Culture. Getting buy-in for telework can be a huge shift from the “We’ve always worked at our desk” mindset.
Managers. “They manage by seeing and are fearful of what it takes to manage people when they can’t see them,” Ayers noted.
Employees. They like the social interaction of being in the office; moreover, some may fear they will become “out of sight, out of mind,” while some onsite employees may be afraid their workload will increase if colleagues are out of the office.
Performance is hard to measure without a baseline. “You don’t know what success looks like.”
Communication. When people work remotely, there can be miscommunication over sensitive issues.
“Despite all these roadblocks, we still have successful programs,” Ayers said. The question is, “How can we demonstrate that we have successful programs? Because when you talk to your management about teleworking, they’ll [bring up] at least five of those [roadblocks].”
Among strategies the panel suggested for measuring ROI:
Conduct drills to determine whether telework programs are effective for maintaining operations during emergencies, such as the major snowstorm in 2010 that shut down the federal government. Drills can help uncover and address connectivity issues.
After an emergency or inclement-weather event, calculate the difference in productivity rates and attendance records between teleworkers and onsite employees. It’s important, though, to compare equivalent workgroups, such as those performing the same type of job or at the same job level.
Determine the percentage of employees who accept employment or remain in their job solely because they can work from home.
Conduct internal surveys, including entry and exit interviews, about the importance of telework to job satisfaction.
Panel member Ryan Hendricks, HR consultant in performance management for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, noted that telework can directly affect an agency’s real estate costs by reducing the amount of office space needed.
One way to measure the ROI of telework in terms of real estate is to estimate costs such as leases, mortgages and real estate taxes based on all employees occupying traditional office space and compare that with the costs of having fewer people onsite.
A similar estimation can be made with utility use, said Megan Arens, consultant in HR strategy for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. A basic approach, she suggested, is for agencies to compare the energy used before and after telework is implemented.
“The amount of money that we’re saving is really cost avoidance,” observed Bill Powers, senior advisor on business continuity and mobility work programs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Over time “that can start equating to dollars back to the organization.”
Powers said the DHS is hiring, but it struggles with where to place its employees. Additionally, he pointed out that a shift is occurring in the workplace, with a multigenerational workforce demanding to be able to work remotely.
“Telework has really emerged as a driver of how we can be more engaged and more productive in this budget-neutral and cost-effective day and age we’re in,” he said.
Advocating the use of micro-pilot telework programs, Powers added, “The more pilots and sample data, the better the business case to go mobile will be. He also recommended that employers use results from those pilots to extrapolate the potential impact of telework across their employee population.
Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor for HR News.
Can a Mobile Workforce Better Serve Citizenry? SHRM Discipline, Technology, September 2013
SHRM Workplace Flexibility Resource Page
SHRM's HR Technology e-newsletter