In a former journalistic life, I used to cover Scott McNealy and his company, Sun Microsystems, where he is co-founder and former CEO. On Sept. 22, he’ll be the keynote speaker at the Work Anywhere Symposium 2011 at Sacramento State University. The conference is sponsored by the Telework Research Network, whose most recent study argues that the state government in California could save “$800 million in increased productivity and $500 million in absenteeism and turnover costs” by rolling out solutions to let employees work from home and away from the office.
Tell us more about how these numbers were arrived at, and describe how “telework” could operate in a state workforce environment.
You’ll hear all about that in one of the upcoming sessions and you can download all the details from a white paper that’s being released to coincide with this conference, but the bottom line is that those numbers are based on a synthesis of hundreds of research reports and case studies of actual company experiences. For the most part, they reflect the large body of evidence showing that the large majority of people are more productive, more engaged, and more loyal when they’re given the freedom to work where and when they want. I’ve seen it in my own companies so I know these aren’t just pie in the sky numbers.
Are there special challenges or advantages state and local governments have in implementing telework options?
There have been many successful initiatives in the federal government from which we can learn. Of course, every organization will have its own unique issues but a wide range of agencies, such the Patent and Trademark Office, FDIC, NIH, have proven that it can work and the savings are real. What it takes for any organization to do this successfully is a strong commitment from the top and a culture that recognizes that it’s results that matter. As always with any change, there will be resistance, particularly from middle managers - something else you’ll be hearing more about later today - but with strong leadership, they can be overcome.
Is “telework” different from “telecommuting”?
Telecommuting focuses on only one aspect of the equation, that being the commute and while gas savings and time spent traveling to and from the office is a consideration, Telework is a broader term. Substituting telecommunications for any form of work-related travel has been significantly impacted by the advances in technology and the collaboration tools available. Many of those will be on display at the Symposium.
What other lessons could the state learn from Silicon Valley in terms of managing its workforce?
The savings are real, the business model for telework is proven and my company alone realized over a billion dollars in savings. It also needs to know that it is not an all or nothing proposition. You may have some workers that may only telework one day a month, others only a couple times a week. The important thing is to find the right balance for each individual and the needs of the organization. At Sun, we found that morale and retention were higher with telework users and that we had higher productivity from them. The dirty little secret is that they worked more productive hours and were happier and it was less expensive to support them expense wise.
I was present when you made the famous/infamous “You have zero privacy, get over it” comment (Jan. 26, 1999, product launch at Sun Microsystems). Do you feel the things you were saying about privacy at the time have been validated in the era of Facebook and other social media?
More than I ever imagined. Many in the younger generations have a very different sense of privacy and are very comfortable sharing much of their life on public social networks. I for one am glad Facebook and phone cameras did not exist when I was going to college. These networks are considered a feature in today’s digital life, not a bug. My only advice is that everyone should consider that what they submit to the network electronically in any form to any site should be considered a digital tattoo that is likely going to be seen by more folks than they had intended and will be very hard if not impossible to erase from the public digital library known as the Net. Do you really want your children to see it someday?