Is Teleworking Feasible Here?

Teleworking, or working away from the office, is possible now with the advent of Internet, mobile and wireless technologies. Unfortunately, many companies are not keen on the idea, but there are some that seem to think otherwise.

Flexibility pull of teleworking

For years, R. Sharma commuted daily from Seremban to Kuala Lumpur for work, leaving home as early as 5am and returning at about 8.30pm. It was a difficult time for the recruitment consultant who had to manage both family and work life.

Although now she works closer to home in a local manpower outsourcing company and spends less time on the road, her only wish is to have the flexibility to work from home. Her current employer, just like the previous one, is not open to such an idea.

The physical presence of staff in the office is important to them, says Sharma.

But much of her job can be done from home since it involves dealing with job seekers online, she explains.

‘We rely heavily on e-mail, Web applications and the telephone to get our work done. We have a secure intranet and can access info from anywhere. We have the technology tools for remote working. It does not matter anymore where we work from.’

‘Also, our deliverables have been defined, so we know our responsibilities and time frames.’

All-round gains. The opportunity to work away from the office, or teleworking, is highly valued by many employees like Sharma who see technology tools as enablers. Largely, a work-at-home or flexi-working opportunity is now sought by the worker and not pushed by the employer. But more enterprises are beginning to realise the benefits and opening up to the idea of allowing employees to work remotely.

While employees look at the opportunity as a means to balance work and life, better meet personal responsibilities and save on time and expenses travelling to work, there are numerous savings for employers, too. These include reduced overhead costs, motivated employees, increased productivity, business continuity and retaining the best talent.

Studies have indicated that a well-formulated teleworking plan can save a company huge amounts in dollars and man-hours. On a larger scale, increased teleworking can contribute to reduced pollution and traffic congestion, the two major contemporary problems facing cities.

Takers. With businesses becoming more regional and international in nature, enterprises now have to deal with situations where their workforce dial into the corporate network from the field, or even collaborate online from different locations. Especially in highly fragmented regions, many enterprises, including multinational companies (MNCs) with sales personnel working remotely from several locations across the region, are turning to teleworker solutions, according to Moaiyad Hoosenally, industry principal, ICT practice, Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific.

For Malaysia, the teleworking trend largely depends on the type of company and the nature of the organisation.

‘The trend would be valid for MNCs that are used to having employees from many different locations. Moreover, as Malaysia is a large country and the offices are mainly located in Kuala Lumpur, it could be highly advantageous for employees to work from home to save on travelling costs. Labour costs may also be relatively lower in the more remote areas of Malaysia,’ Hoosenally says.

If the nature of the organisation is predominantly sales-related, it could be more cost-advantageous and convenient for sales personnel to be connected to their office even when they are outstation, he explains.

But government bureaus and enterprises with a strong hierarchical history may not consider remote working on a big scale as senior management may prefer to monitor their employees and interact with them in person, he adds.

1)Internet security solutions provider SonicWall Inc sees the need to be flexible in a competitive workforce environment. Ang Chye Hin, regional manager, Asean, SonicWall, says the company trusts its employees to perform their work from anywhere. By adopting telework, the company also can ensure work continues if a major catastrophe takes place, he explains.

‘They can work from home or anywhere so long as they are aligned to and deliver the goals of the company. In the event of a major disaster, the company is ready to continue to be productive without any security compromise.’

SonicWall has in place a secure remote access solution that offers easy and effective remote access and remote support to its mobile workforce.

2)Microsoft Malaysia sees the benefits of flexible work arrangements for its employees. Nadiah Tan Abdullah, human resource director, Microsoft Malaysia, says the company is moving towards developing a more comprehensive work-from-home policy to boost employee morale and increase productivity.

‘We want to empower employees by allowing them to continue their career and at the same time balance their personal responsibilities. Providing employees with greater autonomy, flexibility and independence at work is critical for maintaining job satisfaction and retaining them.’

3)Chai Cheng Sheng, human resource director, IBM Malaysia, says IBM had learnt that flexibility is a key reason why people choose to remain in the company.

‘Flexibility matters just as much to individuals. Our Global Work/Life Survey confirms that as IBMers’ flexibility increases, their difficulty in balancing work and personal life decreases.’

Two decades ago, IBM introduced ‘flexi time’, which allowed employees to adjust their office hours by 30 minutes, but today the company has six flexible work arrangements that include teleworking and working from home.

It provides ThinkPad notebook computers and telephone and connectivity allowances. And employees can access e-mail or information on the global or home front, have calls from the office directed to their mobile phone, and instant message colleagues from anywhere, the very same things a regular employee would do in the office.

‘Today, the interactions of the global workforce with 24×7 activity spanning the world’s time zones and accommodating a range of local holidays require a far more flexible environment. Using new technologies, it is becoming easier to widen the concept of facilities management towards the needs of employees, wherever they are. Essentially, the aim is to achieve ‘facilities flexibility’, which is necessary to support flexible working,’ Chai says.

4)As part of its employee development programme, public relations agency Text 100 provides the flexibility for employees to work from home.
Yeow Mei Ling, managing consultant, Text 100 Malaysia, points out that the flexibility of being able to work from home is a strong employee retention factor.

The company encourages a responsible work culture where the emphasis is on quality and timeliness of work done.

‘This policy empowers our employees to work better and more efficiently. We believe that unhappy people are going to be less productive, and since technology today allows us to work effectively whether from home or in the office, why not take advantage of it and make our employees happy?’ Yeow says.

A majority of the Text 100 employees are equipped with laptops and given remote access to the company’s servers through a virtual private network.

‘As long as they have Internet connections, employees can access virtually any document on the server without having to physically come into the office. Each Text 100 team member is able to access their e-mail, contacts and calendar through a Web access portal (through Microsoft Exchange) from any PC or handheld device with Internet capabilities,’ Yeow says.

‘Employees also have the option of accessing their e-mail and calendar via their mobile device.’ The result: Happier, more responsible employees who feel empowered to work in the way that best suits them.

Source: Article by Chandra Devi from the technu.nst.com.my, 6 March 2008