Margot is the vice president of administration at Broadbent Beverages, a bottler and distributor for approximately 25 beverage companies. Much like the bottling companies for the best-known soft drink manufacturers, Broadbent does much of the behind-the- scenes work, such as bottling, packaging, and shipping beverages.

As more beverage companies are doing their own bottling and distribution, and profit margins are getting thinner, Margot and other Broadbent executives have been looking for ways to trim costs. One cost-cutting measure Margot proposed about one year ago was to expand its telecommuting program. She calculated that the company could reduce office space by 25 percent if just 10 percent more workers did not require permanent office space. The telecommuters could work from home about four days per week and share much more limited space on their day in the office. Margot also explained to other Broadbent executives that the company would most likely enjoy productivity gains from the telecommuting program.

In collaboration with other executives and middle managers, Margot developed a list of positions eligible for telecommuting: accounts receivable specialist, business development representatives, benefits specialist, purchasing manager, and truck dispatcher. Workers who volunteered to telecommute wouldbe given the opportunity, yet no workers would be forced to telecommute.

Thirty-one employees volunteered for tele- commuting at first, and within six months, 42 employees were telecommuting at least two days per week. The telecommuters themselves had good reports about their experience. Several talked about their work lives being less stressful; many agreed that cutting back a on commuting improved the quality of their lives; and at least one dozen employees said they enjoyed contributing to a green environment by spending less time on the road.

Despite the praiseworthy comments from the telecommuters, several middle managers and supervisors began to complain about the work-at-home program. Dan, the director of accounting, complained, “I may be old fashioned, but I don’t consider my accounts receivable specialist really working when she spendsFriday morning at Starbucks poking at her lap- top. If she were in the office, she would be pro- cessing a lot more invoices.”

Midge, the marketing manager, said, “I want toget together a group of reps so we can brainstorm a complex customer problem. But there’s only one rep on the premises, so I have to schedule the brainstorming session for a later date. This same problem has happened to me a few times.”Cal, the dispatching supervisor, expressed hisconcerns about telecommuting in these words: “With half the dispatchers away from the office at a given time, it is tough to solve simple problems. Instead of just walking down the hall to iron out a small problem, we have to exchangedozens of e-mails, or make dozens of phone calls. It doesn’t feel like our department is part of a real company any longer.”

Margot made note of all the positives andnegatives said about the telecommuting pro- gram and decided to dig into the problem later in the week.

Discussion Questions

  1. Explain the extent to which you agree with the complaints about telecommuting.
  2. How fair is the assessment of Midge and Cal that group problem solving is made more difficult when workers are telecommuting?
  3. What advice can you offer Margot to have a telecommuting program better accepted by the managers?

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