For more than ten years, a number of staff here at Orange Business Services work remotely, sometimes extensively, and even exclusively. I’m part of the group of employees that telecommutes exclusively.
So, I was very interested to see the media and social reactions following Marissa Mayer’s recall of remote workers to Yahoo’s headquarters. As someone who works to help our enterprise customers make the most of communications technologies for all workers, I was heartened to see the many people who spoke up and shared how remote working isn’t the problem (and even how telecommuting is unstoppable).
productivity vs innovation
I see a bit of a tug-of-war here: workers say they’re more productive at home, while (some) managers say they want them in the office so they can collaborate and, hopefully, innovate together. Moreover, the foundation for this tug-of-war is shifting as workers continue to adopt new technologies that enable even more mobility, productivity and collaboration, regardless of where they are.
There won't be an end to this discussion anytime soon. But as a remote worker, I was intrigued to come across a Polycom white paper about the Art of Telecommuting. Turns out it’s from 2012, before the current controversy, and includes excellent perspective on the challenges telecommuters face, tips and tricks for telecommuters to help them optimize their environment, and, of course, some advice on implementing video for telecommuters.
Workers, especially those in multinational organizations crossing multiple time zones, are challenged by distance from colleagues; my favorite quote from the white paper: “Teleworking with a telephone feels like meeting everybody in the dark.”
Staff spend long hours on the phone, which can be exhausting, because “traditional telephones transmit only a small portion of the audio frequencies that we humans generate when speaking and a lot of speech sounds, for example, fricatives, can get lost in the transmission.” Combine this with callers who are not speaking or listening in their mother tongues, plus the roughly 20% of the population (at least in the US) who suffer from hearing loss, and you can quickly see how difficult it is to ensure everyone is following the same lines of thought.
Wideband and super-wideband audio can help, by eliminating the “bandwidth limitations of toll quality voice (audio frequencies from 300 to 3400 Hertz) and covers the range from 30 Hertz to 7000 Hertz or higher.” I'll be putting this on my wishlist for my new home office.
Video is obviously the superior choice for helping telecommuters reduce distance and fully participate in teams; “it provides the context of communication that is missing in a voice call – as a participant, you are not meeting in the dark any longer and, more fully engaged, you not only better understand the team members’ reactions, but also can play a more prominent role in meetings.”
It’s worth remembering that telecommuting isn’t always a walk in the park. But telecommuters – as well as those knowledge workers whose work is increasingly defined as “what you do” rather than “where you are” – need to share responsibility with corporate IT and management to ensure they’re choosing the best (and right) technologies for getting their work done as productively as possible.
I see videoconferencing about to take off as a regular alternative to audio calls for remote workers. Take a look at Polycom’s white paper for some great perspective and many more details, including how to set up your remote workspace to facilitate videoconferences.
What do you think? Do you see videoconferencing taking off with remote workers?
I've spent more than 17 years in global telecommunications, and was formerly responsible for international social media activities at Orange Business Services. I enjoy making technology accessible to non-techies and I'm a strong supporter of flexible working.