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Summary:

Microsoft Canada’s latest Flexible Working report shows that despite a steady drumbeat of studies validating the idea that telecommuting improves productivity, Canadian managers are still much more skeptical of the practice than their employees, holding back uptake of remote work.

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Telecommuting is hardly the most new fangled idea out there. As we’ve pointed out here on GigaOM previously, virtual working has been kicked about as a way to improve productivity for years, but for some reason, despite regular research results validating the concept, telecommuting’s status as a good idea whose time hasn’t quite come continues. Why is that?

One of the most compelling and frequently cited explanations is that middle managers just aren’t that into the idea, distrusting their employees to keep working without supervisors watching them like hawks. You’d hope that over time managers would get over this fear, but a new survey out of Canada suggests that trust issues persist. Microsoft Canada’s recently released Flexible Working report surveyed 1,249 employees and 642 bosses and  found that while 55 percent of employees feel they’re more productive working from home, only a quarter of bosses agreed.  Why were Canadian managers less than crazy about remote work? They gave Microsoft a numbers of reasons:

  • Just shy of half (49 percent) said the inability to talk face-to-face
  • The same percentage complained about lack of focus
  • 26 percent disliked the  lack of accountability
  • 22 percent opined that that employees do less work

Still, despite the skepticism of bosses, almost half of them (42 percent) support remote working arrangements for their employees. That stat just reinforces the inevitability of remote work, according to Carolyn Buccongello, vice president of human resources at Microsoft Canada. “Boundaries between work and life are blurring. You may dismiss this as a Generation-C issue but this speaks broadly to all generations. There are pros and cons to this new way of work, but it is not going away and technology can become the key to resetting those boundaries,” she says.

She also called for bosses to rethink their distrust and focus on employees’ results, not face time. “A flexible workforce begins with leadership teams building a culture of trust and a vision that focuses on individual results rather than how much time they spend at their desk,” she says.

What, if anything, will finally convince middle management to embrace virtual work?

Image courtesy of Flickr user alexindigo.

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  1. Remote work is a relatively recent phenomenon that was quickly espoused by the high-tech industry in the US but it is only slowly being adopted in other countries. In Europe, Asia and Latin America remote work is a very rare occurance and face-time remains as strong as ever. Anecdotally, friends working in Microsoft Mexico are espousing remote work mostly due to the gnarly traffic jams and vehicle circulation restrictions – sometimes in peril of setting back their career.

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