A Potential Disaster for Quality Employee Output
by Thomas L. Greenbaum
t is almost impossible to pick up a business magazine today without seeing an article about some aspect of remote computing and how the business environment will change in the new millennium as a result of this emerging trend. Essentially, remote computing is defined as the ability of workers to operate out of "virtual offices" that are outside of the traditional, centralized work-place environment. Through the use of modems, laptop computers and other high-tech gear, it is possible for workers to perform most or all of their tasks electronically without having a traditional office. This includes communicating with co-workers via e-mail, fax or video conferencing, and even sharing files with their colleagues so members of a work team can coordinate their efforts and share thoughts together. There are now Internet products available that enable people in remote environments to meet and communicate as a group in cyberspace.
Several different factors are creating excitement about remote computing and fueling this new approach to doing business. The most important of these are:
Because of these factors and perhaps a few others not mentioned, a large percentage of business, educational
and governmental organizations are planning for the future by installing high-tech equipment that will permit their
organization to realize the benefits of remote computing. However, it is unclear whether these same companies have
begun to address the serious potential problems that are likely to occur as they move into this new approach to
conducting business. For instance, while the concept of working at home to eliminate commuting is a very appealing
idea, it carries with it some very significant potential negatives which could dramatically impact on the productivity
of the work force and ultimately the profitability and/or effectiveness of the organization. The extent to which
there are problems resulting from the backlash effects of remote computing will depend somewhat on the type of
person involved in the effort as well as the nature of the job they hold. However, for many positions, the rising
trend toward the virtual office and the remote computing environment can be very problematic. As a result, long
term planner for human resources issues must address several areas over the short-term to be able to deal effectively
with this inevitable trend. Examples of these include the following:
It is a serious question whether the average worker can operate in a remote environment without contact with
their peers and still remain happy and motivated and maintain a feeling of belonging to an organization. Working
in virtual offices might appear to be a very appealing concept for a short time - for a day or two, or a week -
but as a full-timejob it could result in a very unhappy and unmotivated work force.
How to Make Virtual Offices Productive
A whole new approach is needed for managing employees in a virtual environment, in order to leverage the benefits associated with remote computing without having them erased by the potential negative aspects. With this in mind, the following are several indicated actions that need to be considered by human resource professionals over the short term to deal with this situation:
Test Employees First. Companies should develop psychological testing programs aimed at determining the profile
of the type of person who can work effectively in a remote environment. This would enable them to screen out the
people who would not be successful under such an arrangement, keeping them in the main office where they can continue
to produce in their position.
Allow Some of both. By providing a new type of office arrangement in which people could work part-time in a remote environment, companies would allow them to have the best of both worlds. This would probably eliminate the concept of the personal office (or work space), with employees being assigned an office on those days they would be at the main facility.
Train Managers. Developing policies and procedures to enable supervisors to effectively manage workers in a remote environment. These would address issues such as training and development, motivation, monitoring and managing productivity and maintaining high levels of morale in the remote work force. The one thing that is quite clear is that management in this type of environment is quite different from what almost all mangers are customed to today, and therefore it will be necessary for them to learn new skills along with their employees. Organizations must adopt practices that will enable them to leverage the benefits of the new high-tech world while at the same time building in some kind of "high touch" elements which would replace what employees currently receive in the traditional office environment.
Thomas L. Greenbaum is president of Groups Plus
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