The Questions to Ask About Telecommuting Before Someone Else Does

March, 2023

Last week, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra was grilled by the US Senate on the telecommuting policy at HHS. Citing pictures of empty parking lots, the old-school senators took the view that empty parking lots meant a lack of productivity. Certainly, this is a feeling held by some business leaders throughout the country, as many are asking their employees to return to the office.

Our IT salary report showed that only 10% of employees at the median are being allowed to work from home full-time. And that number is likely to shrink in the coming years.

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Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana was quoted asking, “If there’s no cars, the building is empty. How many full-time employees are at their desks in one of these buildings every day? How do we know the people of HHS are working?”

It is an old-school question that is perhaps behind the times. But Secretary Becerra gave a rather unsatisfactory answer, “You’re limiting the scope of what we do. We have investigators who never sit at desks,” Mr. Becerra said. “Depending on the work that has to be performed, they will be in the office at times, sometimes they may be in the field. But what’s important is that they’re performing.”

Whether allowing work from home is a good idea depends on the organization, the role, how centralized your business is, the strength of your management team, and many other variables.

But if you are going to allow more telecommuting, you need certain ducks in a row. If you are going to allow work from home, you need to be able to answer the following questions:

    • Do we have a management team that understands how managing remote teams is different?
    • Do we have good metrics in place to measure productivity both in the workplace and at home?
    • Can we maintain those metrics without creating a “Big Brother” atmosphere that will make our employees feel uncomfortably watched?
    • Once we settle into our work-from-home strategy, do we have a plan to reduce the footprint and costs at our offices?
    • How can we effectively rebuild the office for when in-person work is required?
    • Have we addressed the appropriate security and privacy concerns when allowing employees to work from home?

Had Secretary Becerra been able to answer the Senate’s questions with his plan to address these issues, undoubtedly, he would have been better received. As a leader, if you intend to allow more flexible work, you want to be prepared with answers to these questions, or you might face a similar, uncomfortable discussion.

By: Dave Wagner, Senior Research Director, Avasant Research