Balancing act: Beware of jealousy when employees telecommute

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20 2013 8:20 a.m. MDT

Jealousy at the office could be a byproduct of allowing employees to telecommute.

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Here's an important tip for my fellow managers in cubicle country: be flexible, but be prepared for the consequences.

The people I manage now are constantly forced to exhibit knowledge and creativity as they build new content and products. I'm sure many of you are working with similar teams.

The people with whom I work excel in their jobs, and to help them succeed, I try to accommodate their need for flexibility. For example, when one of them stops by my cubicle to say her "brain hurts" from working on a complex project, I encourage her to take a break and think about something else for a while.

When discussion about how to solve a problem goes on for a bit longer than I expected during a meeting, I let it go (to a point), knowing that this particular group almost always settles on the ideas that will lead to the best outcomes.

And when team members ask for the opportunity now and then to work from the relative peace and quiet of their own homes, I'm happy to approve their requests.

The latter has been relatively easy for me, as I've found that, for the most part, they're even more productive at home than they are at the office. If it weren't for the necessarily collaborative nature of our work, I wouldn't mind if they worked from home even more often.

I pondered this as I reviewed the results of a survey released this week by Kona, the social collaboration platform of Virginia-based Deltek, a provider of enterprise software and information solutions.

According to the survey, which was conducted in conjunction with SodaHead.com, 59 percent of respondents said they had co-workers who telecommuted. Of those who worked remotely, 22 percent said they were full-time telecommuters, while 9 percent said they worked outside of the office two days a week.

The survey also showed that 70 percent of respondents said they would rather telecommute than work in the office.

"For workers between the ages of 35-44, the numbers jumped to 81 percent, while only 66 percent of those between 18-24 wanted to work remotely," the press release from Kona said. "In addition, 70 percent of parents would rather work from home."

I'm guessing those numbers surprise exactly no one. I'm in the 35-44 age group, and I definitely enjoy the occasional day of working from home.

Telecommuting works particularly well on days when the children are in school and have some kind of program or performance during the day. I'm usually able to get up early and work before they wake, then take a break while they get ready for school.

I work again before and after the program — often marveling at how much I get done in the quiet of my home. At the end of the school day, I'm able to spend more time with them. And then I usually work another hour or two in the evening.

This makes for a bit of a disjointed day, but it usually works well. I keep my phone with me in case of emergencies, and I communicate via email and instant messaging with my team members throughout the day. I especially love using time I would normally spend commuting to either get a jump on work (in the morning) or welcome my children home from school (in the afternoon).

Obviously, this wouldn't work for me every day, as my job generally requires my presence in the office. But it's nice to have the flexibility when I need it, and I'm grateful to have a boss who understands those needs.

As I mentioned earlier, I try to be the same kind of boss. However, managers who allow for this kind of flexibility should approach the situation with their eyes wide open.

What do I mean by that? Well, the Kona survey indicated that 57 percent of respondents said working remotely spurs jealousy among colleagues.

"For workers over the age of 65, the numbers jump to 65 percent," the Kona press release said. "Sixty percent of parents and 75 percent of those that earn over $100,000 per year are jealous of co-workers that telecommute."

These numbers surprised me, but perhaps that's because I haven't witnessed this kind of jealousy with my group.

Maybe my team members who don't have jobs that lend themselves to working from home hide their raging envy from me and quietly seethe in their cubicles, but I really don't think that's the case. As I said before, we're a collaborative group, and we do a great job of working together and staying on the same page, even when some people aren't in the office.

I truly believe that, like me, the people on my team are more concerned with performance and productivity than with "face time." If a team member's telecommuting was making us miss deadlines or produce low-quality content, we'd all be concerned. But that hasn't happened.

Still, I see how jealousy could be a problem in some groups. As I've mentioned in previous columns on this topic, telecommuting doesn't work for every job class or even every employee within a given category. Any time one person is thought to be receiving a benefit that his co-workers don't receive, envy could be the result.

In such cases, it's up to the manager to communicate effectively with her team and to make sure she's being fair and transparent about telecommuting opportunities. While taking those steps may not completely resolve feelings of jealousy, they should at least ease the concerns of reasonable team members.

I'd be interested in your reactions to this survey. Do you telecommute occasionally or have co-workers who do so? If you do, are you productive during your work-from-home days? If you don't, are you jealous of teammates who are able to work remotely? Why do you feel that way?

Please send me your ideas, and I'll share some of your responses in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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