HP regressing on telecommuting

Here’s an interesting article in the San Jose Mercury News.

Apparently the new CIO has decided that employees are abusing flex time and telecommuting privileges and need to be reigned in and slapped down. He has taken the draconian step of eliminating the option to telecommute for about a thousand IT personnel. This will require employees to commute up to 50 miles a day, relocate or quit (without severance pay.)

This is from the company that was a pioneer in the flexible workplace. A company whose telecommuting program began in the 1960’s. A technology company that makes a lot of the products that enable telecommuting. Hmmm.

So what does this mean? Is this a new trend? Is telecommuting a failure? Will other companies start to follow HP’s lead?

I really don’t think so.

As far as I can tell, this is just poor management. Here are some of the reasons for the decision specified in the article and my take on them:

  • Some employees were abusing the system. Frankly, I have never thought it is a good leadership practice to punish everyone for the mistakes of a few. I mean really… this sounds like what the nuns did to us in 2nd grade because Johnny in the back row was talking.
  • Poor performers learn better when they can interact with good performers. Ummm… does it really make sense to punish (and possibly lose) the high-performers for the sake of the poor performers.
  • “There’s a certain synergy when people are together in a room”. That’s true but there is also a lot more socializing, idle chatter, wasted time, distractions and interuptions. Does everyone need to be in the same room all the time?

I have always found that for telecommuting to work you need an employee with certain qualities and training and a manager with certain qualities and training. Obviously it doesn’t work for everyone. But just as obviously, it really works well for many.

I can’t see this move as anything other than a management failure. It’s sad to see, but I don’t think we will see a large crackdown on telecommuting and flextime from other companies. Of course, my vision may be clouded by my obvious bias but I will be keeping my eye on the situation.

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