Thursday, March 8, 2007

Teleworking and Management Beliefs in India

Consider the following:

a)Sun Microsystems reported a savings of USD 300 million during the past 3 years as a result of its iWork Program

b)Cisco Systems distributed work strategy reports a return on investment of 300% resulting from real estate savings and reduced employee turnover

c) IBM has nearly all of its employees working on telework basis , It reports an aggregate savings of USD 500 million a year in real estate , training and HR support costs

d)The county of Los Angeles reduced employee turnover by 25% for its telework population


These are early indicators of the fact that teleworking and distributed workforces are increasing becoming a trend in workforce management. This post of mine explores the possibility and implications of tele-working as a practice in India and also leaves the reader with some questions which s/he might want to explore

Before we go any further its important to understand the definition of teleworking. Telework as defined by the International Telework Advisory Council (ITAC) is “the ability to work anytime, anyplace, using remote access connectivity and mobile technology”

Teleworking –Implications for Indian organizations

As we have seen Teleworking makes eminent business sense, but the implementation of a teleworking program represents a fundamental change in the organization to the extent that employees are empowered to decide where and when they work. The shift of power over the individuals work mode from the management to the employee represents a major shift in management philosophy. The question to ask is whether Indian organizations recognize this change and have the ability to adapt and make the most of the opportunity that teleworking presents as a tool.

I spoke to a few colleagues about the concept of teleworking in their organizations and got a mixed response. The responses varied from rejection of the idea to some amount of acknowledgement of its possibilities, the common issues raised by these managers were as follows:

1) Loss of Supervisory control
2) Employee isolation and loss of company loyalty
3) Inability to work in teams –real-time
4) Logistics issues of coordinating a virtual workforce
5) Infrastructure issues

When I reflect on the issues raised by my colleagues, I am tempted to believe that most of us in India do have long-held beliefs about the supervisors role, company culture and employee trustworthiness, thus moving to a telework program maybe considered as high risk.

I was of the opinion that in India’s services sector the beliefs of the role of the supervisor would be fundamentally different from the manufacturing sector….I am not too sure of this any longer. My colleagues work in the services sector and their unstated belief is that a supervisor should be in control of the work products of his reports and its much more efficient to get “things done” when your reports are in physical proximity . This does not mean that teleworking is a non starter in India , companies like Infosys have some initiatives in this direction with remote access work locations for mothers ( however this is not teleworking , the way we would like to define it , but it’s a good start nevertheless..)

In Indian organizations where some form of teleworking is prevalent , it has the following characteristics :

a)Employees use personal computers or company laptops to work after office hours at home . Remote access card primarily support working after office hours and are not considered a primary work channel. Hence when these remote access cards are provided to the employee, its like giving him a tool to work “more after his stipulated working hours” and not to improve his productivity. I am not sure if this helps employee retention or morale…

b) Remote access devises is also used in the context of maintaining connectivity during travel. I used my data card during my Infosys days to keep in touch with my e-mail and service my customers ……

I believe that these manifestations have more fundamental causes (going far beyond the phenomenon of teleworking per se) which needs to be explored by all of us, I would leave the reader with the following questions to struggle with and while there may not be any right or wrong answers the solution to this could be in our collective struggle , and my questions are :

a) Do we really trust our employees?
b)Are we insecure as managers ?(do we need physical proximity to retain “control” over our teams)
c)Do we treat our employees the way we want to be treated ourselves?

1 comment:

Shreyasi Deb said...

Would you believe this? I wrote an article called 'Virtually HR' on teleworking and its implications on HR policies and processes in Human Capital in 2003.