Work, life balance, productivity among IT telecommuting benefits for CIOs

Like many U.S. workers, CIOs have recognized the IT telecommuting benefits. But for those in the midmarket, working remotely is tougher to pull off.

The workweek as we know it is dead. Long live the telecommute.

So the numbers say. IT telecommuting continues to rise in popularity. It is the perk of all perks, the opportunity to avoid living out the workday as a Dilbert strip.

Though in some cases, and for some midmarket CIOs, "IT telecommuting benefits" just means working from home before or after a full workday at the office.

A June survey by Dice Holdings Inc., which runs IT job board Dice, found that 37% of IT workers would accept a pay cut of as much as 10% in exchange for the opportunity to work from home. Another 7% already telecommute.

And it's not just staffers who now stay home. A new SearchCIO-Midmarket.com survey of nearly 250 midmarket CIOs and IT managers found that 66% of midmarket CIOs participate in some type of IT telecommuting. And 19% of CIOs said that they telecommute more this year than last year.

Of those telecommuting more frequently than last year, 52% said a work/life balance was their primary reason for staying home. Twenty-five percent said they get more work done at home. And 13% cited high gas prices.

Hans-Werner Buerger, a specialist for IT performance and standards at Chicago-area Hollister Inc., said he would work from home if his company allowed him to.

"Easily," Buerger said. "I think I'm more productive from home."

As it is, however, Buerger connects at home most nights and works a full day if he has to stay home while sick or on family business.

And Hollister, which manufactures specialty medical products, may head further in the remote-work direction. Buerger said telecommuting has been discussed as the company grows and plans for new office space.

"There's a lot of discussion going on based on, you know, the oil crisis," Buerger said. "Also, the time that more and more people spend on the road, especially in the Chicago area, going from the north down.

"It's very important because of space cost and environmental and energy cost," he said.

Martha Heller, a managing director at Z Resource Group Inc. in Westborough, Mass., said the uptick in telecommuting, even at the executive level, is a symptom of a broader culture -- one where work matters but isn't everything.

"We are in an era … where people are very, very big on work/life balance," Heller said. "Even CIOs at large companies are recognizing that you only live once."

The SearchCIO-Midmarket.com survey found that CIOs at enterprise companies are even more likely to telecommute than their enterprise brethren, though for the same reasons. A full 75% of enterprise CIOs report that they telecommute.

Heller wasn't surprised by that finding, either. The talent pool to run a massive IT department is a small one, she said. That means hiring committees usually end up going with a CIO who lives a plane ride away from the company.

As a result, it is much more likely that an enterprise CIO will take time to relocate. That means working from home sometimes and flying into the office the rest of the week. It's a tradeoff that those at the top of the game are able to leverage.

"Companies are willing to do that for their new CIOs as long as there is a plan for the CIO to move permanently," Heller said. Larger companies "almost always" have a relocation plan for CIOs, but the ailing housing market means those plans may take more time to implement, she said.

We are in an era … where people are very, very big on work/life balance.

Martha Heller, managing director, Z Resource Group Inc.

In a note accompanying the Dice survey, Dice senior vice president of marketing Tom Silver wrote that "corporations may want to consider enabling more tech employees to telecommute, not merely because gas prices are spiraling, but because this may be a way to attract and keep talented individuals.

"With tech professionals still in high demand, the offer of telecommuting could separate a company from the rest of the pack," Silver wrote.

Still, the perk isn't for everyone. And midmarket CIOs -- if they even have the option to telecommute -- are less likely to use it.

David Lewis, CIO at Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators in Salt Lake City, said he doesn't telecommute. It's more a matter of choice for him.

"The face time is probably important," he said. Two of Lewis' staffers work from home, but everyone else is expected in the office to keep things in order at the 310-employee company.

"Other than the normal from-home IT support, I don't have that," he said.

Lewis said that even though telecommuting has become more of an option for CIOs and their staffs, he describes himself an "in-the-office type of person."

And for others, telecommuting isn't exactly a perk. Greg Hirte, IT manager at Bay Industries Inc., an Orlando, Fla.-based makers and sellers of commercial insulation, knows telecommuting as a euphemism for "more work."

"We're a small IT staff," Hirte said. "There's two of us for 300 users, so I have to do system maintenance in off hours and things." Hirte said he is in his office every day and works from home every day and when on vacation.

Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.

This was first published in August 2008

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