The Telecommuting Tribe [Working Mother]
(Working Mother Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned working from home earlier this year, working parents were outraged. Mayer's 11,000 employees notwithstanding, a new Working Mother Research Institute survey finds that telecommuting is thriving nationwide. Here, the Best Companies-and their work-from-home moms-reveal why.
"Wait, you have a nanny?"
That's what people ask when they find out that Jessica milesko-mom of Summer, 4, oliver, 3, and clara, 18 months-has a caregiver watching her kids while she works from home.
It's the surprise in their voices that always gets her.
"I think, Really? You're asking that?" says the director of performance management for consultancy A.t. kearney, one of the working mother 100 best companies for 2013. "how could i possibly get work done otherwise?" in fact, Jessica has a full-time nanny and a dedicated office in her madison, wi, home, where she's worked full-time for the past four years. She regularly collaborates with co-workers on video calls and travels quarterly on business-and in July, she was promoted.
Jessica's story debunks quite a few telecommuting myths: that it's a career dead end, or a refuge for parents trying to scrimp on child care; that workers who use it don't produce or innovate like their in-office peers.
"Working from home is really what allows me to have three kids under age 5 and a full-time job," she says. "During the day, i'm in my office and they're in 'school.'" (based on advice from fellow telecommuting moms at A.t. kearney, Jessica set up the kids' playroom like a montessori classroom, and her caregiver works offa lesson plan.) "because i don't commute, i can be in at 8:01 a.m. and done by 4:59 p.m."
And yet, although an estimated 20 million to 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week, telecommuting remains one of the most "culturally misunderstood" workplace practices, says ellen ernst kossek, PhD, professor of management at Purdue University.
So it's not surprising that when Yahoo ceo and new mom marissa mayer eliminated working from home earlier this year for her 11,000 employees, the decision sparked fierce debate: were teleworkers as engaged and productive as their in-office peers? could a company be innovative yet still provide this important flexibility? who is working from home, how much, and why?
To study the issue, Working Mother surveyed more than 1,500 employed moms nationwide to gain a clearer picture of working from home-from how it works to its impact on work. we even asked what telecommuters wear. (hint: it's not pajamas.) we also talked to moms at this year's best companies to learn their best practices for getting their jobs done at home. we found that although work-from-home may not work for Yahoo (right now), it is absolutely working for employees and their employers nationwide.
Engaged and at Home
For monica ward, it started as a concession to a nightmare commute. her drive from her home on the indiana border to suburban chicago takes the mom of haley, 12, and Jordyn, 5, more than three hours round-trip. Driving it five days a week cost the kraftFoods group human resources manager 60 hours and $700 on gas each month.
"I loved my job, but i was really struggling," she recalls. So she and her manager drafted a new schedule- three days in the office, two at home. the arrangement, says monica, has made her a stronger, more strategic contributor. "i plan ahead constantly," she says. "i separate my tasks. i think about when i want to provide input in person or collaborate with someone, and when it works better to drill in, get quiet and really concentrate."
Earlier this year, for instance, monica struggled to develop a new strategy for managing the company's union benefit plans. Amid meetings and office interruptions, her ideas weren't coalescing. So she blocked out several consecutive days to work from home. "my creative juices were flowing, and content just came to me. i worked on it nonstop for many hours across multiple days," she says. her strategy has since been implemented. "this was absolutely an 'aha moment' for me while working remotely, and i attribute the productivity to the fact that i had the opportunity to concentrate with minimal disruptions."
But are most workers really so productive at home? Studies say yes-and best companies agree. in a remote-work pilot program, for instance, Pnc Financial Services group found its home-based employee resource staffcompleted more cases per month than their office peers-and reported better work life balance. At cisco Systems, flexible workers are 18 percent more likely to be high performers, says human resources director Jennifer Dudeck, mom of James, 10, and henry, 8, who works from home in north carolina and supervises seven people based in other cities.
Working moms agree: eighty percent of the respondents in our survey said that flexibility in when and/or where they work had a positive or very positive effect on their productivity.
Mo carranza, a senior information systems analyst with takeda, is another member of the majorcommute club (300 miles round-trip to the pharmaceutical company's chicagoarea offices). beyond getting decent sleep on home days, she says periods of solo concentration enhance her performance. "i'm more creative when i'm working from home," she says. "i don't get pulled into the 'Yep, what she/he said is what i think, too' mentality that can happen in some groups." During a recent home day, for example, the mom of Fernando ii, 15, ross, 13, Alex, 10, and Abby, 9, ferreted out a tough technical problem with the company's compensation system. Says mo, "i was able to sit down and research the issue without distractions until i could uncover the root cause."
Both monica and mo have work-from-home balance- a split between days in the office and at home. in our survey, we found that 19 percent of respondents who work from home have similar setups, telecommuting at least one day per month and not more than four days per week. it's a model that Dr. kossek says is ideal because it keeps workers tied into the office culture.
But not all teleworkers have this luxury. increasingly, work teams are geographically dispersed at companies large and small. About half of cisco employees, for example, work at different locations from their managers, and 40 percent work outside the United States. if you're not regularly scheduled to be in the office, you have to work hard to find other ways to make connections, say moms who telecommute.
Cisco employee Annemarie Azzi manages to be a full-time teleworker and a familiar face in the technology company's new York city office. to combat the isolation of being at home full-time in chester Springs, PA, the market intelligence group manager aims for at least one business lunch in the city each month. on those days, she plunks down at an open office desk and works the rest of the day there. "You have to be proactive about keeping in touch," she says. "otherwise you get disconnected from that next layer up" of management. She also serves as co-president of conexion, the company's Latino employee resource organization, which means she interacts with a wide variety of co-workers and outside contacts.
Jessica and her far-flung team (spread from chicago to milan) also put their webcams to use. "People tend to be more engaged when you're looking at them," she says. "it's easy to get distracted by email or other things if you're just talking on the phone." to build rapport, she and her team have shared virtual tours of their offices, chuckling over the co-worker who spiffed up for the occasion by throwing a suit jacket over his t-shirt.
The fun stuffis very important, says mo. "it strengthens bonds with my co-workers, especially ones i don't get to see on a dayto- day basis." to that end, mo has rearranged her schedule to participate with colleagues in a company photo contest, a 5k charity run/walk and the department's volunteer session at a local food pantry. twice a month, she joins her department at a team lunch. this year, mo received her department's first Stars Award, which recognizes (among other things) collaboration.
Stay visible-and be vocal, too. one of the persistent stigmas of remote work is that it kills advancement chances. in a korn/Ferry international global survey of more than 1,300 executives, 61 percent said they believed telecommuting limited career prospects.
Jessica regularly logs her contributions into a word document. "i am diligent about tracking and sharing with leadership what i'm working on," she says. "this is especially helpful for ad hoc requests and other 'special' projects which tend to be forgotten. i also send leadership a weekly status report with major milestones, open questions and a red/yellow/green progress status."
As a result, Jessica is confident about her contributions and prepared to discuss her work with higher-ups. Ultimately, tracking her accomplishments helped her win a recent promotion. (respondents to Working Mother's flex survey have reason to believe that telecommuting won't keep them from climbing career ladders at their companies: half of them say that their own direct managers either always or often work from home offices.)
Monica keeps her manager apprised of her work at a standing weekly appointment. She'll occasionally ask to present key projects at department meetings so she can reach a wider audience. indeed, monica believes telework may ultimately facilitate her advancement opportunities: She's pursuing an mbA using kraft's tuition reimbursement program. that would have been impossible when her commute was gobbling up so many hours.
telecommuting is an art, say moms who do it. it requires certain boundaries. For years, Anne-marie's boys went to an afterschool program. (our survey found kids are mostly elsewhere when mom's working-68 percent said their children are at school, with a sitter or at day care.) but now that they're old enough to come straight home on the school bus-tony is 13 and Alex is 10-Anne-marie has set a few new standards, including: if her office door is closed, it means she can't be disturbed. (She might be on a video call-part of working on a team spread across two continents is that someone's dog will inevitably stroll across the shot.)
Anne-marie has made a conscious effort to be active. After a long conference call, she'll run her basement stairs a few times. the brief burst of exercise clears her head and loosens up her joints. "the exercise really helps, and it's not something i can do in the office," she jokes. "they frown on running around like crazy." (Exercise is a big gain for telecommuters- 26 percent of women we surveyed work out when they work from home, versus only 14 percent who are in the office.)
Exercise isn't the only healthier habit home workers adopt. rather than grab fast food, for example, Anne-marie will scramble herself eggs for lunch, or use a break in her day to start dinner. in fact, food prep is one of the most popular uses of salvaged time-44 percent of women we surveyed swapped commute time for cook time. when companies tally up the cost savings of flexible work arrangements-office space, fuel costs, time, reduced worker turnover-perhaps health care savings deserve a line item, too?
Here, There, Everywhere
No matter what the future holds for Yahoo, remote work is inescapable for workers and their employers across the country, and the world. in fact, many of this year's best companies are global enterprises whose workforce can't be brought under one physical roof. nor do many people think of work as a strictly face-to-face operation anymore-plenty is accomplished even within offices via email and instant messaging.
Jennifer Dudeck recalls feeling like a pioneer a decade ago when she began working from home. the practice was "on the fringes, a grassroots movement at cisco." now, fully 90 percent of cisco's workers put in some hours at home at least one day per week-and flexibility has become a company bedrock, says Jennifer. "our culture is to care more about the quality of work people do, and less about where and when they do it."
Flex Makes It Better
We asked working moms nationwide how flexibility affects different aspects of their work. their answers, below, show why flex offers such payback to employers.
Please indicate how flexibility in when and/or where you are able to work has influenced your...
LEGo Systems measures employee satisfaction with the "Happometer," which emphasizes that happiness increases when work is meaningful and valuable-not when work hours increase.
63% wear casual clothes while working from home.
Source: How We Flex, Working Mother Research Institute, 2013
Finding Face time
Our Best Companies help remote employees make real connections, no matter where they work. Here, they reveal their most powerful telecommuting tools.
By JEnnifEr Carofano
It used to be that when you worked from home, the spontaneous office meet-ups that might spark a new idea (or a new friend] happened, well, almost never. Today, with so many employees working across time zones and locales, the Working Mother 100 Best Companies are putting technology to work to make it easier than ever to have a watercooler moment from the comfort of your well-worn home office chair. Here, we break down the most common work-from-home challenges and how to overcome them-no matter where you sit.
Tech tools Fast Answers
THE REMOTE CHALLENGE You have a quick question for your supervisor (who is five states away) and need an immediate answer.
THE TECH SOLUTION Instant message (IM)
HOW IT WORKS "Instant messaging helps people feel more connected when they can't 'see' their peers, and it has greatly enhanced the speed at which things get done," says Carol Sormilic, IBM vice president of global workforce and Web processes enablement. Indeed, she notes that IBM employees generate more than 50 million instant messages every day. The potential downside to easy connectivity? Distraction. "IM is usually something that employees try to do as they are working on something else," says Rose Stanley, work life practice leader at WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association focused on work life effectiveness. "So they are constantly being interrupted to answer an instant message." Many companies dictate what IM system employees use, but most free providers, such as Yahoo! Mail and Google's Gmail, offer IM as well.
How We Connect
When working moms telecommute, we lean heavily on email and phone calls to stay in touch. When we work in the office, we prefer to pop over to chat in person.
How do you typically communicate most with members of your team?
Source: How We Flex, Working Mother Research Institute, 2013
Tech tools In person, remotely
THE REMOTE CHALLENGE You need to present your latest project to co-workers, which involves talking them through a series of complicated charts and graphs.
THE TECH SOLUTION Digital collaboration tools
HOW IT WORKS Organizations use collaboration tools or platforms with desktop-, tablet- and mobile-enabled technology to create connectivity, says WorldatWork's Rose Stanley. These software systems-the most popular being WebEx and Citrix-allow work-at-home employees as well as staffers at far-flung offices to attend virtual meetings, share documents and desktops and access content, all over a secure network.
At Teach for America, the video function of WebEx is used for meetings and panels, says Kathleen Fujawa, senior managing director for the company's human assets team. The work-athome mother of Elise, 4, oversees a dozen employees and notes, "The experience of seeing your co-workers is pretty important." (Case in point: You don't have to wonder who's rolling his eyes at your idea, the way you would during an old-fashioned conference call.]
According to Stanley, the biggest benefit of these systems is the ability for remote employees to be and stay engaged. "Face time is so important for collaborative work, or for a one-on-one between a manager and an employee," she says, noting that new synergistic tech tools are popping up all the time, including Lync, Fuzebox, Google Hangouts, MeetingBurner and Anymeeting. "Some employees keep their Google Hangouts open even if they are not in a meeting in an attempt to create spontaneity with their team members," adds Stanley.
Arnold & Porter has grown a "garden room" in each of its offices, where employees can gather for refreshments at the end of the day. each office also features its own special events such as weekly breakfast treats or wine and appetizers on Fridays.
Have a dedicated office with a door that closes.
Cultivate an IT contact so there's someone to call when the scanner or videoconference link doesn't work.
Participate in office networking and social opportunities.
Set clear standards for when you're available to work and to family.
Revisit your telecommuting arrangement annually.
Be front-of-mind even when you're not actually in front of your manager.
TECH TOOLs Network News
THE REMOTE CHALLENGE You crave community.
THE TECH SOLUTION Enterprise social networking
HOW IT WORKS Similar to Facebook, enterprise social network platforms, such as Yammer, MangoApps and Jive, can create a company-specific feed where employees can post news or events and join groups that cater to work-related topics and personal interests, such as fitness or movies. Teach for America's Kathleen Fujawa uses Yammer from her home office to connect to her team of 12 employees on a daily basis. The work-at-home mom of a 4-year-old also co-founded the Toddler-Preschool Parent Resource Group for employees who have kids ages 1 to 5. "Co-workers can post, 'Help! My daughter isn't eating,' and get responses from parents across the company and the country," says Kathleen, who belongs to a total of 15 groups on Teach for America's Yammer.
The ability to be so connected does have its drawbacks. "By virtue of these technology tools being at your fingertips 24/7, sometimes employees don't know when to turn it off," says WorldatWork's Rose Stanley. "Without downtime being part of the equation, you run the risk of burnout." But for those work-at-home employees who thrive on personal connection, technology can help bridge the gap. Says Kathleen, "If you are someone who gets your energy from interactions with others, you need to make the space to give and get that during the day and to stay connected with your teammates, peers and the organization."
In Takeda's innovation room, employees connect over ping-pong, video games, board games-and, of course, whiteboards.
Cut the Commute
Because driving to work alone takes a toll on the environment and on commuters' nerves, Herman Miller encourages bike riding with $100 reimbursements toward a bike or biking supplies. the company also helps those who don't want to commute alone by matching them up with others who want to carpool or bike-pool. SC Johnson provides a vanpool program as well as subsidized Amtrak train service for employees traveling to its racine, Wi, headquarters. university of wisconsin Hospital and Clinics employees enjoy a complimentary city-wide Madison bus pass and free membership in a hybrid-car-sharing program.
TECH TOOLS Make a date
THE REMOTE CHALLENGE You need to schedule a meeting that requires coordinating calendars of six people in your department.
THE TECH SOLUTION Webmail
HOW IT WORKS "Many organizations have their own webmail access with apps to coordinate with tablet and mobile devices," says WorldatWork"s Rose Stanley. While seemingly old-school, webmail is an efficient and secure way to keep groups of people in the loop as well as the best way to manage multiple schedules. Most company webmail platforms, as well as providers such as Google's Gmail, also have the option of shared calendars, which can be especially helpful when walking down the hall to peek in someone's office isn't physically feasible.
(c) 2013 Working Woman
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]