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Advantages and Challenges of Telework Published: Sunday, December 26, 1999 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

As research, but most of all, experience is showing already, there are four breaks from the traditional 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. routine of employees who share a work location and see each other on a daily basis. These options offer challenges for organizations of different types and their managers, but they also provide opportunities. In any case, organizations should start playing with these new configurations, because we can expect that telework will be very strong in the next decade.

Twenty five years ago, Jack Nilles coined the term telecommuting while stuck in traffic in Los Angeles. The initial concern with this possibility was driven by issues of traffic congestion and pollution in densely populated areas. In the 1980s the focus was cutting cost, so this possibility became a means for reducing expenses related to office space. Recently, organizations have begun to view telecommuting as a tool to attract and retain top personnel in the fields of short supply. Now, computer-based technology has led to a number of alternative work forms, including satellite centers, neighborhood work centers, and mobile working. Together, they constitute the industry of teleworking. This trend points to the transition from in person supervision to remote managing, from face-to-face communication to telecommunications-mediated communication, from on-site working to multiple site working and from side by side collaboration to virtual teamwork. Let us discuss some expressions:

Home-based telecommuting refers to employees who work at home on a regular basis, though not necessarily everyday. The theory does not consider telecommuters the home based workers who are self-employed or who otherwise have no connection to a central workplace. A person can be said to be a telecommuter if his telecommunications link to the office is a simple telephone; telecommuters often use other communications devices, such as electronic mail, personal computer links to office servers, and fax machines. In this case, either the organization or the employee purchases the home equipment.

In satellite offices, employees work both outside the home and away from the conventional workplace in a location convenient to the employees and/or customers. A satellite office houses only employees from a single organization; it is in some sense a branch office whose purpose is to alleviate employees that commute.

A neighborhood work center is similar to the satellite office with the difference that they house more than one employee. One modality is for several organizations to share the lease on an office building and maintain separate office areas for employees of each company.

In contrast to telecomuters who work from one designated location outside the main office and who communicate with the office using electronic communication, mobile workers are frequently on the road, using communications technology to work from home, from car, from plane or from a hotel. These type of new workers labor in different kinds of settings.

Remote managing occurs when managers are physically separated from their direct reports and they interact remotely. It is characterized by the inability of a manager to observe her employees` work processes. Trust, respect and professionalism are an imperative in these scenarios. Virtual teams consist of team members who are geographically dispersed and who come together by way of telecommunications technology (video conferencing, etc.).

Although there will always be room for contingencies or the unexpected, flexible planning can aid the transition to the new future world of work.

Copyright 1999 QBS, Inc.
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