There’s been lots of talk of late of how employers are finding various ways to help employees reduce the costs of commuting. In other states, there has even been talk of shifting to four-day workweeks or telecommuting.
Connecticut has long since adopted a telecommuting plan and policy. But an article in this week’s Hartford Business Journal reveals that it has been used very sparingly. The HBJ reports that "Ten years after the state adopted a telecommuting policy, only 140 of approximately 50,000 state employees had telecommuting agreements in 2007."
Now, some unions and other state leaders are now looking to expand that, but may face some opposition from Governor Rell’s office:
Richard Harris, a spokesman for the governor, said it would be difficult to increase the number of state employees who work from home.
When you look at the things that state workers do — in many, many instances — it is difficult for them to telecommute because they interact directly with the public,” Harris said.
Linda Yelmini, director of labor relations for the state, doesn’t favor an expanded telecommuting policy. “Many private employers have reduced or completely eliminated these types of programs because experience has shown that lower productivity and lack of management control is often the result,” said Yelmini in an e-mail.
What’s odd about this approach is that it seems like it is running counter to the trend in the private workplace. But even more confusing is that the state’s approach runs counter to press releases that are put out by the Connecticut Department of Transportation under its "Telecommute Connecticut!" program for private employers. These press releases state that its findings reveal that telecommuting does, in fact, "work".
Indeed, on the department’s telecommuting pages for private employers, there are specific responses to the complaints that telecommuting doesn’t work.
Myth: Telecommuting changes managers’ expectations of employees when they’re not in the office.
Fact: You don’t need to see employees working; you need to know the results of their activity. By establishing concrete goals for telecommuters, employees working from home will know what work is expected of them and you will know that the work is getting done.
Who’s right? Obviously, there is an element of truth to both sides. Telecommuting isn’t for every employer and every job is not right for telecommuting. But with gas prices high and more employers trying to attract quality candidates, telecommuting does make sense for employers in several instances.
It’ll be interesting to see where this debate goes in the upcoming months. Even among federal workers, the trend seems to be more encouragement of telecommuting and alternative work arrangements. Will Connecticut finally follow suit? We’ll just have to see.
In the meantime, employers who want more information about telecommuting can go to the state’s website which has a number of helpful resources on the subject.