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Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos

Whatever Happened to the Virtual Workplace?

Christiane Hoeninger’s recent SCN blog Whatever Happened to the Paperless Society? got me wondering:

 

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE VIRTUAL WORKPLACE? 

 

Coincidentally, I attended a great presentation that same day on Allstream’s Workplace 2.0 by Vice President of IT Gary Davenport, which led me to consider why I haven’t heard more about tele-commuting lately.

 

I’ll admit to selfish motives here … Toronto, the city where I work, boasts the world’s longest commute times.  According to an article by the Toronto Star,  “At 80 minutes per round trip, Toronto commuters spend 24 minutes a day longer dragging themselves to and from work than people in Los Angeles, 12 minutes longer than New Yorkers, and 32 minutes longer than residents of Barcelona.”  As much as I enjoy the interactions with my colleagues around the office, tele-commuting is looking pretty good!

 

While some managers may have concerns about the whole idea of working-from-home, many organizations appreciate the business case.  Allstream’s original business case was centered around the following four pillars:

 

Reducing business continuity risks

A business continuity plan needs to take into account potential security threats, transit disruptions, epidemics (e.g. SARS, H1N1) etc. This is especially true for offices located in major metropolitan areas.  A tele-commuting infrastructure allows operations to continue in the event of unforeseen business interruptions.

 

Reducing costs

Businesses can realize significant annual savings on real estate costs (not to mention the money saved by the employees on the cost of commuting).

 

Attracting and retaining talent

Most employees would appreciate the option to work from home, at least part of the time.  This may or may not be driven by the Gen Y’ers (we seem to blame them for everything these days).  Either way, offering this type of flexibility seems a good way to ensure access to the best talent.

 

Increasing productivity

75% of Allstream’s remote employees reported an increase in productivity.  Using my own Toronto example, even if I only count the average of 80 minutes per day in saved commute time, that’s 6.67 hours per week more work time.  But my experience is that you work harder when you work from home (fewer distractions), and the work day tends to spill over into “personal time” (a discussion for another time). 

 

With the rising concern surrounding the climate crisis, changes in employee commuting habits represent a real opportunity for addressing GHG emissions.  This Bright Hub article cites a Gartner Dataquest 2008 report, which indicates tele-commuting will rise through 2011.  I wonder if the rate of growth is increasing beyond Gartner’s predictions with the rise of the sustainability movement. 

 

Technology barriers seem to have been removed.  Mobile access to the Internet is proliferating.  Social networking options alleviate some of the isolation associated with working from home.  There’s even a “working from home” emoticon in my office instant messaging application. 

 

So what about you?  Compared to 3 years ago, do you tele-commute more or less?

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      21 Comments
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      Author's profile photo Susan Keohan
      Susan Keohan
      Hi Cory,
      This is a very timely question for me - as we have just started an official WFH option for some of the developers.  So yes, the pilot program for ABAPers has been embraced, and we are hoping it expands to others as well.  I do work from home sometimes, as circumstances require and wonderful manager allows - but have yet to make it a fixed schedule because of the spillage - not to mention distractions of two kids and a dog.  Sometimes, it is a relief to go into the office and have adult conversions 🙂
      We should talk more about spillage though - life spilling into work, work spilling into life.
      Sue
      Author's profile photo Martin English
      Martin English
      Hi Cory, Sue,
        I've found Spillage to means other things when you're dealing with dogs 🙂

      On Topic - I've been on call (on and off) for something like 30 years (less the 5 years I spent as a Developer in the 80's).  It comes with the territory with Systems Programming and BASIS jobs.  Add to that the requirement that these jobs have for scheduled work outside normal office hours, and it's not surprising that people either get out or get addicted.  FWIW, I'm definitely one of the later 🙂

      The effect isn't detrimental to me; I enjoy my work.  The problem is what it does to your family life and other relationships.  Letting 'work' (Think air quotes; I sometimes feel guilty about getting paid to what I do !!) steal your time means it is stealing you away from people who need or want to spend time with you (spouse / partner, kids, etc).

      In this business, you can usually allow for a deficiency in one resource by doubling up on another (insufficient CPU ? throw some real memory at it).  Time, on the other hand, is finite, and the amount available is always decreasing.  Use it wisely.

      Martin

      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      LOL!  Enjoyed your comment immensely Martin, thank you.

      I was reading just yesterday that work/life balance is irrelevant if you love what you do - which we do.  On the other hand, this doesn't take into account the important people in our lives who need our time.  I will take your sage advice to heart, and hope others will as well.

      Cheers,
      Cory

      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      Hey Sue!

      Happy Mother's Day 🙂

      Thanks for the comment - GREAT to hear about the pilot program.  I really hope it works out well and gets explanded.

      Spillage and distractions ... I'm still chuckling.  I suspect we could come up with a very interesting follow-up post here, if you're game?

      All the best,
      Cory

      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Probably not here on SCN.  After 7 years of 100% travel as an education consultant I made a declaration that I would find a way to tele-commute or resign myself to a new employer.  That was a self-imposed dictum and as my self-imposed deadline drew nearer and nearer I began to fear that I would need to "pack" in order to stay at home.  At the final month, I was very very fortunate to find not one, but two job opportunities before the sands in my hourglass ran out.  One was for knowledge management and an internal portal and the other was for SDN.
      Many in education had said that my quest was a bit futile because one couldn't be in the classroom virtually (at that time) and still engage in SAP education.  But luckily for me that proved wrong.
      Perhaps more commitment to being a virtual worker is needed not just on the side of our employers but on the worker's side as well.  This wasn't something "offered" it was something sought.  And I'm fortunate that I found managers willing to work "with me" in creating a more flexible framework.

      Also in terms of home commitment ,for me, it meant retrofitting a room in my house to serve as an office and the infinite patience of my husband/partner as the room I retrofitted also served as our sleeping quarters.  In addition it meant having my kids adjust to the fact that although I was physically home, I wasn't available during work hours to their requests.

      But to answer your question Cory, the last few years (at least 5) have been as a virtual employee and though there are quite a few challenges, one of them being longer hours than I would have had at any central office (what Sue called spillage), I wouldn't trade this back ever for so many reasons: better use of time that would have been wasted traveling, ability to be a more normal family member by saving commute, some flexibility, and my own deep deep hatred of traffic and commuting.
      With the advent of better video conference abilities I am able to enjoy "being" with colleagues at a distance as well.
      Of course I also have the distinct advantage of attending SAP events like Sapphire and SAP TechEd as well as a once a month Tweetup in our NSQ office where I can have concentrated face time with my otherwise virtual colleagues, friends and community.
      And I seem to be seeing that more and more of my SAP friends are balancing their office time with home office time as well.  Perhaps starting the office day later and avoiding traffic because they have actually started much much earlier at home.
      I'm sure our employer benefits from this as well.  Certainly happy employees are more productive.

      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      Hi Marilyn,

      I believe I speak for "EVERYONE" when I say thank goodness for tele-commuting because it means you are part of SAP Community Network!

      Very enlightening idea... "This wasn't something "offered" it was something sought." 

      Thank you for sharing this story!

      Cory

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Hi Cory,

      I have worked within an SAP office for the past 11 years, but began telecommuting in March of this year. I soon realized that I could get much more accomplished before 10 AM (I begin working at 7AM) than I could accomplish all morning while in the office. I certainly miss the social aspects of the office, but with a 45 minute commute, I now can enjoy the extra time with my family. It also allows me to join calls earlier or later than my usual schedule, because my drive home used to have 2 large dead zones where my calls would always drop. (not that driving while on the phone is a good idea in the first place...)

      I found that my lunch hour has morphed into eating a sandwich while I type with one hand, but I try to take one or two days per week to give myself a totally work free lunch.

      My basic hygiene has suffered a bit...my goal is to have my teeth brushed before lunch and my razor blades are lasting much longer these days. I am certain that my neighbors think that my car is disabled and I have a homeless twin staying with my family.

      Having a dedicated workspace is a must for telecommuting. When I was unpacking from a move that never happened (long story..) I had to spend a few days working from the kitchen table, or using my lap as my desk. The neck strain and back fatigue motivated me to invest in converting a bedroom to an office the following week.

      As a technology company, the employees of SAP have the technical capability to work from anywhere. SAP should be able to evaluate our quality of work to determine if telecommuting is effective for some employees or certain positions. Other than the decline in hygiene, it has made a positive change in my job focus, efficiency and my work/life schedule...and the coffee at home tastes much better.

      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      Thanks David!  Eleven years is a long time - I wonder how many hours of commute time that adds up to?

      Appreciate you sharing your experience.  Like you, I find I get a lot done before 10am on the days I work from home. I hadn't really thought about the neighbours' reaction - hmmmm 🙂

      Congrats on making the move to a virtual workspace.

      Cheers,
      Cory

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Cory, you made me laugh. I think all of us working from home have that challenge of when to take a shower. I actually plan it in my Outlook now :-). I think it could be a good comedy sketch to show all the things people do while on conference calls. It's sometimes much better to listen and fold the laundry than sit in front of your PC and be tempted to check email instead of listening.
      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      LOL!  Great idea Natascha!  Beware that webcam though 🙂
      Author's profile photo Martin English
      Martin English
      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      LOL!!!!
      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Great one Martin and LOL to Natascha's suggestion.  I remember having to gently signal a social media exec from a very large "other" software vendor, a few years back, that his Webex session had automatically opened his webcamera (unbeknown to him) and that we were getting too much video information (regarding his facial hygiene).  I have a feeling too, that creating a "professional" way of sitting in front of your computer actually impacts the way you regard your work.  I try to really make an effort to be "presentable" as I approach my laptop although no one can "see me".  But sometimes I'm just leaping out of bed to catch an early call or get some moments to catch up on maintenance duty. For some reason, I do feel more productive when I do this groomed although realistically it is not always possible 🙂
      Author's profile photo Bikas Tarway
      Bikas Tarway
      Hi,

      I completely agree with all your points.
      but data security is the main concern, accessing production system from the comfort of home will always be preferred by employees ( including me ƒº )as they look into system as their routine work but for a business it is a vital information and virtual workplace is a major threat. 

      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      Very good point Bikas.  I think most of us assume "someone else" will take care of all that.  I appreciate the folks who work so hard to ensure our information is secure as we go about our daily jobs - either from the office or the virtual office.

      Thanks!
      Cory

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Great blog topic. I am lucky that SAP lets me work from home a lot of the time. As we work on virtual teams with members in Germany, India, China, Israel, Brazil etc. there really is no point in driving an hour to the office to take the call there. Frankly, it's much quieter in my home office and I have less distractions. I would miss my colleagues if I had to work from home every day, as I think social interactions in person are important. But, as I work in marketing and everybody seems to be in calls at least half of their day, telecommuting is a great option. It probably also depends on ones manager and our group is a lean machine of efficiency :-).
      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      Whoa, an hour drive?  That's even worse than Toronto!  🙂

      You raise something I hadn't really thought of... do you think that the more global nature of your team and business in general has led to increased tele-commuting, on top of all the other factors?

      Thanks Natascha!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Cory:

      Great blog -:) I'm lucky to do remote working since the last two months...this should ideally last for more month, but still I have is enough time to share my thoughts.
      For me, working from home has been a relieve because the early I woke up, the early I can start working. Taking a shower is not a problem, always shower at 7:00 a.m -:)
      About distractions...well, everything is cool when my daughter is in school...which is about 3 hours...after that I still get more concentrated than when I was working in an office...even when having full Internet access and no external control, I feel that the responsibility to work is harder...I have learned a lot from my "working from home" experience -:) Also...best thing is that when you're hungry, you just need to go to the fridge and grab something -;)

      Greetings,
      Blag.

      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      Hello Blag,

      Great to hear from you!  Thanks for the kind comments.

      It sounds as though you and others feel an increased responsibility to work harder when you work from home.  Thanks for the insight.  Is tele-commuting fairly common in Peru?

      Leave it to the guys to bring up the food-connection 🙂

      Cheers,
      Cory

      Author's profile photo Kenneth Moore
      Kenneth Moore
      I've been working from home for over two years now.  I usually am in the office at least one day per week.  Face-time is important to maintain.  The biggest challenge for me is meetings.  Not so much on my part, but the colleagues which are physically at an office.  I'm used to tele-conferences now, but most people at work prefer face-to-face and that is what they are used to.  There has to be a mindset change.  It takes more planning and work to have a tele-conference meeting than a face-to-face.  Technology has not caught up at most companies for this to happen smoothly.  Speaker phones aren't that great or consistent.  Multiple people on speaker phones really cause issues and annoyance.  Video conferences are usually not an option and take more planning.  Technical/performance issues put sour tastes in people's mouths about tele-confernecing or remote support.  It's just much easier face-to-face.

      You will miss out on the social aspects of work and the value of face-time.  Like missing that office party or company luncheon. 

      On the upside, yes, you can be very productive and probably work more.  The costs shift a bit from the employer to the employee (power, coffee, etc.), but they may be offset with commute savings.

      In the end, it is challenging, but it seems to work.  Your boss and company have to support the idea (makes it much easier and enjoyable for all).  Virtually all companies do it to some extent, so it is not going away.  Just advancing more slowly than one might like.

      Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos
      Cory Coley-Christakos
      Blog Post Author
      Sounds like you've been able to strike a good balance of virtual and face-to-face.  The comment "there has to be a mindset change" really resonates.
      As an aside, it's surprising that after all this time, we're still not better at tele-conferencing.  I'm on a con call right now where several folks have forgotten to mute themselves 🙂
      Thanks for the great input and insight. 
      Cory