Many Caribbean organisations are still sceptical about teleworking, as they believe it is just an excuse for their employees to play hooky from work. But in these tough economic times, teleworking can revolutionise and transform how they operate, and assure their longer-term viability.
Across most Caribbean societies, life is becoming tougher. Countries are still feeling the effects of the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008, which have not been limited to national economies, but have trickled down to organisations and to individual citizens. Generally, economic growth and production have slowed, the cost of doing business continues to increase, and revenues are not what they used to be. The sobering truth is that across both the public and private sectors, pressures are being brought to bear to control costs. Salaries and staffing tend to be the first areas on the chopping block.
Although cost containment is important, staffing – like all aspects of an organisation’s operation – should be subject to judicious scrutiny. It thus ought to be appreciated that production, service delivery, and the ultimately the longer term potential for an organisation to recover, could also be seriously undermined by the cost cutting measures implemented.
It is light of these and other considerations that teleworking (also called remote working) is again tabled for consideration. Many Caribbean businesses and organisations are still tethered to traditional ways of working – all employees must work from employer-operated premises. However, such an approach limits innovation, flexibility and agility that have become much-valued characteristics in today’s business environment. More importantly, significant cost benefits and savings can be realised from remote working.
The technology is available
To a considerable extent, organisations can determine the modalities and degree of teleworking implemented. For example, it can range from select employees being allowed to work from home a few hours to several days per week, to entire departments enjoying that privilege. Accordingly, the technology exists to support all permutations of remote work.
The options available in the Caribbean can range from being no-frills and discrete to address individual issues, such as using DropBox or Google Drive to share files or a suite of free online productivity tools, to fully integrated solutions. For example, regional telecoms services provider, Cable & Wireless Business Solution, has been promoting its Mobile Workforce, which essentially is a cloud-based product that “allows employees to access software applications, which are usually accessed only in the workplace, from any location at any time, using any IT device — laptops, tablets or mobile phones — as long as internet capabilities are available” (Source: Jamaica Observer).
Changing organisational culture
However, to realise the benefits teleworking can offer, management and organisation leaders would need to revisit the long-held premise of how organisations are ’supposed to work’. In order have a successful operation – and to be seen to as being successful – it is no longer necessary, or expected, that all employees are present and accounted for at specific premises (unless they are ill, on leave, or on work-related travel).
Instead, the starting point for that paradigm shift could be to focus on clearly identifying the organisation’s core business, its imperatives and goals. Thereafter, management should be open to exploring how best the organisation, and by extension its employees, can be better re-oriented to fulfil those needs.
It is also important to highlight that currently, most of us workers are already inundated with emails and with our phones ring incessantly. Suffice it to say, much of that communication is internal – from our colleagues who might be in the same office, on the same floor, in the same building or compound, etc., as we are. In other words, staff behaviour has already changed, where remote, rather than face to face, communication is generally accepted, and even preferred.
The fine print
For many of the teleworking options that an organisation might implement, the initial set-up and the ongoing maintenance costs ought to be carefully considered. However, those costs may be outweighed by, among other things:
- decreased facility costs, as smaller office space may be needed, resulting in lower rent and utilities
- the opportunity to generate income from the newly vacant spaces
- the productivity gains that can be realised by having systems that allow employees to work competently when not in a physical office
- better focus on imperatives and goals, as office distractions would be minimal
- increased employee retention through a better work-life balance.
Image credit: Citrix Online (flickr)