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Posted: 10/13/2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Tags: Workforce

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Josh Sawislak
Senior Fellow
Telework Exchange

I've heard this question before – is telework a scam? Sometimes it’s not even a question, more like a statement. Do teleworkers actually “work”? Last month, a jobs web site called CareerBuilder.com published a study that found that 17 percent of the teleworkers they surveyed said they worked an hour or less a day. Another 8 percent reported they worked 2-4 hours a day. The data show one quarter of their survey population is working less than half of the nominal eight-hour workday. That got a lot of people in this space spun up, so let’s look at the numbers and the bigger picture.

The folks at CareerBuilder.com hired a reputable survey firm, Harris Interactive. As far as I can find on the web, they only released a press release and a graphic representation of their survey results, so I will have to make some assumptions here. I am going to talk about some math and statistics below, so if that freaks you out, skip to the next paragraph.

One point I find curious is that none of the respondents apparently work between 1-2, 4-5, or 7-8 hours a day, but I will assume this is an error in the graphic, not the survey methodology.  What I find even more curious is that less than half (48 percent) of all workers (office and home) claim to work eight or more hours a day on a typical day. So I went back and looked at the American Time Use Survey from 2009 (most recent) published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS found that the average working American spends 7.44 hours per day “working”. Stay with me here. CareerBuilder.com’s press release says that they only surveyed full time, non-government, non-self employed workers. So if BLS’ data includes part time workers, shouldn’t there be a whole lot more Americans working over the straight eight? If the data are suspect for all workers, I’m not sure how much I trust it for teleworkers. 

But let’s pass by these issues and assume that 17 percent of teleworkers are only working one hour or less a day. And that they are not all devotees of “the four-hour work week” management guru Tim Ferriss. Lets also welcome back the people who skipped the math section above.

What I want to ask the 17 percent is “how many hours a day did you work when you were in the office?” And I want to ask their managers what type of performance criteria they use to measure these employees? Here is my unscientific guess to the answers to these two questions:

  • They worked the same number of hours either in the office or at home and their bosses only look at attendance, not any type of outcome or even output measure. Bad employees are bad employees, regardless of where you put them. If someone is not motivated and doesn’t like their job, they can usually find a way to slack off
  • Motivated employees and ones whose performance is tied to their effectiveness are less likely to slack off and, if they do, it will become pretty obvious, pretty fast

This is easier to do in certain jobs than in others. Sales people never have a problem defining success. As Alec Baldwin’s character in the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross says to the assembled salesmen (they were all men), “first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado…second prize is a set of steak knives, and third prize is you’re fired.”

I’m not suggesting a Darwinist approach to all management issues, rather some clear direction from manager to employee as to what is expected and what constitutes success. This is equally important for the office worker, as it is the teleworker. No matter how many hours someone works a day, the question we should be asking is “what did you get done?”

If you want to continue this discussion, I hope you can join me next week in Washington D.C. for the Telework Exchange Fall Town Hall Meeting at the Ronald Reagan Building on October 18th.  If you can’t join us at the Town Hall, you can write your thoughts below or e-mail me at jsawislak@teleworkexchange.com.

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