The topics of telecommuting and remote workforces have never been more hotly discussed than they are today. On the heels of Yahoo Inc. and Best Buy Co. ending their long-standing remote worker programs and requiring employees to start working regularly from a local office, a debate is raging in the press, across social media, and in HR and executive circles over whether employees should come into the office or be allowed to work from home.
The discussion is not new, but the decisions by Yahoo and Best Buy have put it back on center stage for both managers and employees. People on both sides of the debate voice valid concerns and support for their arguments for or against these decisions:
- Remote workers may live too far away to drive to the nearest office, or need time during the day to care for family members.
- Managers may feel that workers are more productive and engaged when they are working in the same location, face to face. They may also include "visibility" as a factor in promotions and compensation adjustments.
Missing the Bigger Picture
This debate is being framed in black and white terms: Should employees be required to come into an office, or should employers allow the option to work from home? Seems simple, but so far the debate is too narrow—missing the bigger picture, and overlooking some important discussions that could solve the problem for both sides.
The current focus on working from home or in the office—and how that impacts productivity—is only one piece of a bigger puzzle. The conversation should be about people working from anywhere. What if an employee works from the Kansas City office, while the rest of her team is based in Palo Alto, or London? What about distributed engineering teams, like the 1,200 engineers at Polycom, who are based in multiple countries across a dozen time zones?
We need to have an open discussion about the real issues we face as managers and employees trying to run a business: getting the most from a workforce through collaboration. Rich, meaningful collaboration between organizations, companies and people around the world leads to greater trust, higher productivity and greater return on investment.
Like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, I am also the CEO of a publicly-traded technology company based in Silicon Valley, and I am very aware of both the tremendous advantages—and potential pitfalls—of flexible work programs for remote workers. Virtually every company in the Valley, including Polycom, and the majority of our customers, has some form of remote worker program—telework, telecommuting, work from home, etc.—in place and in use.
The goals for these programs can be as different as the companies themselves:
- Attract a larger talent pool by reaching beyond physical borders
- Speed productivity and time to market by making decisions in trusted, face-to-face meetings
- Retain top talent by giving them flexible options to balance professional and personal commitments
- Recapture time and costs associated with travel, especially for internal meetings.
Many companies around the world reap tremendous, measurable benefits from these programs. In fact, in Fortune magazine's recent "100 Best Companies to Work For 2013" list, 84 of the 100 companies listed offered telecommuting benefits for employees.
The Power of Visual Collaboration
There are numerous tools and technologies available to tie remote and onsite employees together for greater productivity, including video conferencing, instant messaging, email, conference phones, Web-based presentations and digital whiteboards. Each of these tools brings greater connectivity to employees, and engenders greater communication. But none of them, by themselves, accomplish the much more complex task, beyond communication, of building trusted teams that collaborate face-to-face both in and out of the office.
Companies are getting results not just from having the right technology, but by embracing collaboration—specifically visual collaboration—as part of their culture and management approach, and by using that cultural blueprint to identify the tools and resources they need to meet their business goals.
Collaboration and the Bottom Line
In 2012, Polycom conducted a survey of 400 business decision makers throughout Europe and found that companies with flexible work programs powered by visual collaboration solutions report that participating employees are an average of 39 percent more productive than others. Respondents also said that, on average, more than half of a company's ability to generate revenue depends on the positive productivity of its employees, so the extra productivity of flexible work employees has a significant impact on the bottom line.
At Polycom, we are a very big believer in the power of video collaboration. Around the world, 100 percent of Polycom's almost 4,000 employees are equipped with tools like video conference room technology, desktop video, and mobile video apps, and use them to collaborate with teams on other continents, and with remote workers, partners and customers. On average, we conduct more than 1,000 face-to-face video calls every day between employees, partners, customers, vendors, prospective new hires and more. In January, Polycom was recognized with a "Smart Work Excellence Company" award by the Korean government, which is pushing a nationwide strategy of encouraging organizations to maximize efficiency and productivity in the workplace through the creation of a flexible work environment, in which employees have greater choice in when and where they do their work through the use of collaboration technology.
Why does a national government want to promote flexible work environments? The answer is prosperity through productivity, competency, employee satisfaction, and overall cost reduction through the implementation of smarter working practices, which include innovative uses of video collaboration technology.
The Power of Human Collaboration
Yahoo is right in the fact that the power of human collaboration cannot be underestimated, and face-to-face collaboration builds trust, inspires and is a cornerstone in the foundation of great companies. In a business world that has evolved to include more flexible working, remote employees, and geographically dispersed teams, leaders need to provide the culture, tools and resources that push the greatness of human collaboration forward by removing the barriers of distance and time, connecting experts to where they're needed most, and creating trust and understanding through more engaging collaboration. That will be accomplished by video collaboration over any device, in any environment, enabling the collaboration benefits we desire in this new era of business. Video will be ubiquitous and will help drive collaboration like never before.
Are you prepared?