Bosses bypass new era

One of the major obstacles to increased adoption of flexible working and telecommuting appears to be New Zealand bosses.

As National Teleworking Week kicks off tomorrow, a new survey by Vodafone is shedding light not just on the extent of workplace flexibility and the deployment of technology to support it, but also on why telecommuting has not been more widely adopted.

And the biggest number in that is that 96 per cent of employees who are not able to work flexibly said the prime reason was that their management discouraged them from doing so.

Becky Lloyd, general manager of business marketing at Vodafone, wasn't prepared to say there was a disconnect between workers and their bosses on the issue, but suggested employees perceived that managers were discouraging them from working in new ways.

The survey covered employees, but Lloyd said the next stage for the research could be to find out what the managers think.

"Employees may assume they can't work flexibly, but don't ask," she said.

According to the survey, 51 per cent of people said they believed their manager liked to see people sitting at desks, and 61 per cent reported they couldn't work away from the office because their manager liked to be able to "brief off work" immediately.

"Brief off work" is when a boss comes up and asks you to do something, but as one long-term distance worker, Cisco's Mike Paranihi, said, with instant messaging it was possible to shoulder tap an employee remotely. His staff are required to be available on instant messaging.

Paranihi is a director of information services at global networking giant Cisco Systems.

He leads a team that manages Cisco's 32 global data centres but he lives in Auckland.

"You still have to have immediacy," he said.

However, in many situations a weekly teleconference was all that was required.

Lloyd said habits like briefing off work didn't support flexibility, but the answer was better communication.

Overall, 37 per cent of people felt their managers were not supportive of them working away from the office.

Only 3 per cent of people said their managers had encouraged them to work away from the office.

Flexible working arrangements were not a free-for-all, Lloyd said, but a negotiation with enormous benefits to employer and employee.

These included improved employee motivation and engagement as well as improved productivity.

Employees were able to construct a lifestyle that better suited their needs.

And it's not just about management-level workers. Increasingly, call centres are being virtualised to allow workers to work from home.

This is now achievable with new technologies to allow call routing to be customised and managed quickly.

Lloyd, who came to New Zealand two years ago from Vodafone UK, said if there was a gap in New Zealand it was cultural, in areas such as leadership and skills to manage remote workers.

Paranihi agreed, saying managing dispersed teams required rigour.

He said for any leader the ability to delegate effectively was vital, but with remote team members it was critical.

Employees had to be set up to deliver to strategy through milestones and other incentives and measures.

The research surveyed 476 people of all ages, regions and industries.

It found there was a strong demand for flexible working conditions, with 77 per cent of people saying that if they were changing jobs, the ability to work from anywhere would make the job more attractive.

Meanwhile, 42 per cent of people, who worked away from the office regularly, said they often did overtime.

Sunday Star Times