March 22, 2013

A few weeks ago, Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer made waves by announcing that her employees could no longer telecommute.

The Telework Research Network estimates that over 3.15 million people consider home to be their primary place of work.

Working remotely is especially popular in the financial services: According to Gartner, banking and the financial services is the second top sector after business services for telecommuting, tied with retailing/wholesaling.

Of course, there is value in 'water cooler' discussions and face time with colleagues, but companies should be armed with ways to adapt to the remote worker, says Kailash Ambwani, president and CEO of Actiance, which provides security, management, and compliance features for unified communications (UC) and collaboration applications.

The key is to have systems in place to allow people to be productive at home, says Ambwani, pointing to IM and other communications technologies.

Ultimately, it is up to an organization’s management to ensure that remote workers are fully productive. That means ensuring that they truly feel like an active part of the company, regardless of their location.

“It’s really important with remote workers to have meetings, and one on ones with them. There were workers with Yahoo who were remote, who were working on their own startup. That’s a breakdown of management,” Ambwani says. This means you’re not interacting with subordinates or getting enough face time with them, he notes. “You have to create a high level of engagement. It’s easy for remote workers to be isolated and not feel part of the company.” At Actiance, managers schedule all-hands on board calls with employees both locally and regionally, and then records the calls and makes them available so that staff “understand what’s going on with the company and feel engaged,” he says.

“We also have a well-defined policy around remote workers. What are the expectations for you to be telecommuting? Lets’ have clear expectations and use available technology platforms,” Ambwani notes.

E-mail is not necessarily the key to keeping employees engaged. On the contrary, it creates isolation, he notes. A far better option is a company intranet. “If you’re not on the email list, it’s hard to keep track of a thread. But if you know you can go to a forum and find out what’s happening, you feel engaged.” Of course, the financial industry has special regulation and compliance requirements, but organizations can ensure that these needs are met within a telecommuting environment, Ambwani notes.

“You can’t have a system allowing compliance only for a premium platform, you need it for remote workers too,” he adds.

Still, telecommuting isn’t the panacea, he says.

“There’s no denying innovation trades on serendipity. If you have people meeting together at the water cooler, that’s how ideas and innovation happen. There are downsides to telecommuting. You do lose some of that. But productivity is higher when you’re telecommuting as you’re more focused, without distractions,” Ambwani says.

“What Mayer was trying to solve is people becoming isolated. It’s about balance,” he relates. Some collaboration platforms can help create interaction that is important for brainstorming.

“It’s not as good as being in same time same place but you can mitigate some of it through platforms and you can enhance productivity through platforms,” Ambwani says. And of course, by offering at least a limited amount of flexibility, you will keep your workforce happy. And a happy workforce goes a long way to ensuring productivity.

Stay tuned for more on this, recruitment, skills, and other issues affecting the financial services workforce in Wall Street & Technology’s June digital issue.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melanie Rodier has worked as a print and broadcast journalist for over 10 years, covering business and finance, general news, and film trade news. Prior to joining Wall Street & Technology in ...