Teleworking: A Field Engineer’s Way of Life

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For many office-based workers, the ability to telework – or, putting this in simple terms, “work from home” – is often considered as a perk of the job.  And given that many people work far in excess of a “standard” forty hours per week – fifty, sixty, and even more than seventy hours are not uncommon – the ability to work away from the office is pivotal is satisfying this insatiable appetite for productivity.

It should probably not have come as a surprise to Yahoo’s management team after Marissa Mayer – Yahoo’s new Chief Executive Officer – emailed all employees this week prohibiting their freedom to telework from the beginning of June 2013.  The ensuing debate has ignited a strong difference of opinion.  Mayer asserts that “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings” and that “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

It seems therefore that one potential key to turning around Yahoo’s troubled fortunes is to force employees to come to the office.  In today’s world of video conferencing and webcams, this is potentially a backward step that will help in keeping corporate America in the 1980s.  This is a view that is supported by entrepreneur Richard Branson who stated that this is a “Backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”

And there’s another reason why Mayer’s decision is flawed: many other businesses make this work.  And they make it work well by investing in the technologies that reduce the virtual barriers between those in the office, and those who are working elsewhere.  Many of the businesses within this horizontal industry also have one major similarity: field workers.

Regardless of the pros and cons of Mayer’s decision, this sizeable group of so-called teleworkers is being ignored: the field worker – those engineers, technicians, home help, and other professionals who travel between many jobs, all-day, and every day.  For them, teleworking is not a perk: it is their job.  And it is often a very lonely job and field workers can exist for many months without going to the office for a face-to-face meeting or “brainstorming session”.  These businesses have learned how to use the latest smart mobile devices to keep their field workers connected to colleagues via the devices’ in-built cameras, collaboration tools – such as the Collaboration Collection Pack that’s available from ClickSoftware as part of their ClickMobile solution – instant messaging, and, of course, by voice.

So let’s bring this debate round to a sensible angle: rather than taking businesses back to what was the norm thirty years and more ago, look ahead to the future and invest in the latest technologies that won’t even break the bank today.  Learn from field service businesses such as Oi, Virgin Media, and CableX who do this for a living.

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