The pros and cons of workshifting

workshifting
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Workshifting has gone from being a promise to being a lifestyle.

The practice, enabled by mobile technologies, promised us the flexibility of being able to work any time, anywhere. Workshifting has given us the freedom to set up a home office, a dream further sweetened by knowing the farthest we’ll need to transit is from the bed to the computer. Traffic jams? Making lunches for the next day? Office distractions? Say goodbye to those pain points with workshifting…or so is the dream of working away from the cubicle.

The Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network estimate that 20 to 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week and 3.1 million people (about 2.5 percent of the employee workforce) consider their home their primary workplace. Other research reveals that nearly half (46 percent) of all companies have at least some contractors, freelancers, or remote workers who rarely, if ever, come into the office.

Workshifting is also a nightmare to some, enabled by mobile technology, a constraining culture of working everywhere, all the time. Employee accountability can be challenging. Trying to reach  a work-shifting staffer when she’s not picking up her phone can an unnecessary frustration. It has ensured that no six-year-old has ever been picked up at school, been asked, “Hi honey, how was your day?” and had their answer listened to by a parent not absorbed in composing a text message.  Working from home can only be so enticing until it starts to bleed to deep into family life.

Naturally, there are countless approaches to workshifting that fall somewhere on the continuum between the dream and the nightmare. Let’s look at the possibilities where workshifting could benefits and where it could harm your B2B enterprise.

Pro #1: More Flexibility for Everyone

It is generally agreed that as both employees and managers, we all want to walk our dogs at lunch time and be at home when the kids come home from school. Given those privileges, it is also expected that getting up at 5 a.m. to take a call from Beijing or leaving the dinner table to deal with an issue in Vancouver or San Francisco is reasonable.

“People should be free to choose the ideal place and time and device to get their work done most effectively, instead of being forced to come to a specific location on a set schedule,” says Citrix – a provider of mobile work stations and virtual desktop systems – in a report called Top Ten Reasons to Embrace Workshifting. “Sometimes it’s a matter of waiting at home for the cable guy, or in a doctor’s office with an ill child, or being stranded by a blizzard and unable to return to work at the end of a vacation. Conversely, work often spills beyond business hours, or calls during nontraditional hours such as the weekend. If workers are unable to adapt to these scenarios and get their work done in a convenient way, both their productivity and their job satisfaction suffer—and they may be tempted to look elsewhere.”

Talking to your family before setting out to work-shift is a no-brainer. But also talk to other work-shifters to learn how they navigate the family-career balance required when you decide to bring your office to your guest room.

Con #1: Less Downtime for Everyone

Workshifters who work from home at non-traditional office hours are vulnerable to losing all sense of boundaries between home and work responsibilities.

“I lobbied for a workshifting lifestyle so I could perform at my best and serve you at the highest level of my capability; therefore, being asked to commit to more than my realistic capacity or having to forgo my flexibility defeats both of our ultimate and intended goals for success,” says Natalya Sabga in her article called 5 Things Workshifters Won’t Say, But Should. The fact that there is an article about what workshifters won’t say indicates they are often taking on a lot more than they signed up for as a culture.

The other boundaries Sabga suggests setting include guidelines about when a workshifter might need to go into the office and the notice required.

“As a rule, I need a full 24 to 48 hours’ notice in order to attend a meeting on-site, except in the case of an emergency or project showstopper,” says Sabga.

Workshifting is not doable when companies offer flexibility when it is convenient and demand workshifters show up on site when schedules go rigid suddenly. The blurring of work-time and down-time presents a serious threat to employee happiness as we already know that the longer we work, the less we get done.

Pro #2: Savings to the enterprise

For B2B enterprises, workshifting can save money. Especially for enterprises who depend on part-time employees and contractors.

“Half-time home-based work among those with compatible jobs could save employers over $10,000 per employee per year—the result of increased productivity, reduced facility costs, lowered absenteeism, and reduced turnover,” says a report called Workshifting Benefits: The Bottom line published on Workshifting.com, a clearing house of information about workshifters and their culture.

Real estate costs are a huge factor in determining whether or not an enterprise chooses to go with workshifting programs that enable employees to work remotely. Cisco recently found that up to 2/3rds of its office space was vacant at any given time because employees were either working remotely or on-site at client locations.

Con #2: Costs to the employee

Every timA woman usine an employee working remotely switches on a lamp to read a report, logs onto his or her home computer or mobile device to take care of a work issue, or buys a piece of office furniture that makes work more comfortable or increases productivity, they are taking on infrastructure costs that would normally be assumed by their employers. Recent graduates, immigrants responsible for the support of families back home and people who have to care for aged parents or young children may not be able to make these investments in such mobile employment. For instance, when an employer pay for a staffer’s smartphone data plan in light of more on-the-go emailing?

Pro #3: Virtual computing models

“The present and future of our knowledge worker industry is built upon the power of software, services, consulting, technology and thought,” said Neil Patel in a recent article about going remote in Entrepreneur.

When it comes to workshifting, there are plenty of tools that enable workers to get their work done where they feel they work best.

“Desktop virtualization means that all data and applications remain centralized and under IT control; instead of data traveling from place to place, it remains in the datacenter, not on the user device. IT can easily prevent data from ever being saved to removable media, printed, or shared,” says Citrix.

In other words, sensitive corporate data never ends up on the employee’s device whether that’s a laptop, a cellphone or a tablet. It rests on a secure central data centre.

Con #3: Virtual computing models

There are problems with virtual desktop and other virtual computing models. They might reduce security risks, but they are more expensive and require increased human effort to maintain than traditional desktops and laptops.

“Overhead costs conserved through central management get cancelled out by the need for powerful servers, virtualization software licenses, and additional network bandwidth,” says Eric Knorr in Infoworld. “Plus, the cost of client hardware and Microsoft software licenses stays roughly the same, while the user experience — at least today — seldom lives up to user expectations.”

Clearly, workshifting is not a phenomenon that B2B enterprises can just accept or reject. Careful investigations into the culture of employee happiness and corporate demands have to be conducted while physical infrastructure savings are carefully measured against increased investment in technological infrastructure. Only with that research and forethought can the dreams of workshifting be realized while the nightmares are pushed back to the abyss from whence they came.

 Photo via citrixonline, Flickr Creative Commons

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Kate Baggott

Kate Baggott

Kate Baggott is the Managing Editor of B2BNN. Her technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun and the Bay Street Bull. She is the author of the short story collections Love from Planet Wine Cooler and Dry Stories. Links to recently published pieces can be found at www.katebaggott.com
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