Isaac Asimov got there first.
In "The Naked Sun," he envisioned Solaria, a civilization whose telepresence technologies are as good as being face-to-face -- superior, in fact, according to the Solarians, who have developed a collective phobia about breathing the same air, let alone making physical contact.
If you read some of the more enthusiastic commentary about telecommuting, you might think we're all ready to be Solarians, only without the phobia.
In these difficult economic times, with companies grasping for any relatively painless way to save money, you're going to be under pressure to help make the Solaria version of telecommuting happen at your company.
Sure it's a bad idea, whether or not your employees are clamoring for it. Why do you care if they save time, money, wear and tear on their cars, psychic stress, or anything else?
If you can't see them, they aren't being productive and that's all there is to it.
But in corporate America, you can't look like you're against progress, no matter how bad progress really is. So to help you prevent telecommuting without losing your forward-looking image, here are 10 sure-fire ways to kill telecommuting while keeping your hands clean:
1. Ignore the gaping holes in the save-big-money calculations
Virtual enterprises save lots of cash compared to their headquarters-laden competitors. If those clamoring for telecommuting expect similar benefits -- hey, you aren't the one making promises.
Never mind that companies can't just flip a switch and virtualize. Never mind that you've already built out more office space than you need, now that the first round of layoffs is over and your lease won't elapse for years. Never mind that the company will have to invest real cash to create a professional telecommuting infrastructure.
These factors will make the conversion a certain short-term money-loser, while the cost savings won't materialize until long after the economic crisis has stabilized. But your "customers" are asking for telecommuting, and who are you to be sand in the gears of progress?
Let telecommuting gain some momentum. When the CFO figures out the financial reality, it will be all over. Nothing kills a corporate initiative better than disillusionment.
2. Keep HR out of it
An employee's home office is their place of work, which means their employer is responsible for ensuring a safe work environment. So if you involve HR before you allow telecommuting, they'll require ergonomically sound home offices.
If you ignore HR and just ask forgiveness later, you might get lucky. If you aren't, an isolated employee might trip over the cat while walking to the home office and file a workers compensation claim, alerting HR that they better become involved.