Teleworking, more commonly referred to as “telecommuting”, or “remote working”, has been a rising trend that more employers have started to offer in the past five to seven-years. However, when an organization considers implementing teleworking, some Managers oppose the idea due to the lack of supervision over their employees. Managers may be concerned about whether their employees are actually working, if they are out grocery shopping, or if they were watching TV while they complete their daily task list. Managers wanting their employees to be productive on work time is a legitimate concern, but what most Managers who oppose teleworking don’t know is that it may be the best thing that their organization has ever implemented. If managed successfully, teleworking offers an organization the opportunity to establish a trusting relationship with employees while also encouraging productivity.
Since 2012, the total number of workers in the United States who telework has gone up by 39 percent, according to Gallup’s 2017 Annual Report, The State of the American Workplace. That means that as of 2017, around 43 percent of all workers in the United States telework in some fashion; whether that be once a week or even less. Clearly teleworking is on the rise and here is why it works, along with some established best practices.
Those who will be creating and implementing a teleworking program should be involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization, i.e., Managers, Supervisors, Department Heads, etc. They will be the ones who understand their employees best and will be able to tailor the program to each employee. Managers should also always seek an employee’s input and foster open lines of communication with them during the whole process, so that they both are aware of and accountable to the stated expectations. In addition, employers should draft a policy for teleworking to be added to the employee handbook, so that the employees are able to see, in writing, what their expectations are while they are teleworking. The policy should include an explanation of items that the employer is responsible for providing as well as items that the employee is responsible for providing. Managers should include a list of things to consider when an employee is planning a teleworking workspace e.g., the employee’s work area must be quiet and free of distractions; lighting must be adequate and without glare; distracting noise should be kept to a minimum; and the employee’s desk must be adequate and designed to safely accommodate the equipment that the employee must use, e.g. computer, printer, etc.
Employers should also make sure that they have the appropriate IT infrastructure in place before allowing employees to telework. This means that employers have tested and re-tested their infrastructure to ensure fast and secure connections so that those who are teleworking aren’t “stranded” with no means of accessing the organization’s network server, or cloud-based system, where all of the data for projects may be stored. Security is also important to consider as organizations may be working on behalf of other organizations, or clients, on projects where confidential data is being accessed. Any breach of such confidential data may result in hefty lawsuits that may damage the organizations reputation and financial success.
Without technology, it would be nearly impossible for a teleworking program to be successful. A very important part of a successful teleworking program is the ability to be virtually present. Whether it be over the phone, or via a video conferencing application such as Skype, it is important for employees to keep in touch with each other. This also may help Managers as they are able to see their employees face-to-face, fulfilling their need to visually see their employees. One other tool that may be helpful to a group of teleworking employees is an online shared calendar. This will allow the employees to know when other employees will be busy, or when they will be available to answer a question, or to talk about a project.
Trust is one of the most important factors when it comes to implementing a teleworking program in any organization. This is easier said than done. If an employee’s work product is lacking in completeness and detail, their Manager may need to schedule a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting with them to see what may be accomplished to assist the employee with improving their work product. Micromanaging is one of the lead hinderances of a teleworking program. Managers will drive employees away when they do not trust them. An employee’s work product will tell the story of what is going on when their Managers are not able to visually see them doing their work. Managers should establish a clear list of expectations and objectives and performance indicators to track how employees are performing, as they would with any employee who is not teleworking.
With that said, it is always important to meet in person on a scheduled basis. Employees need that in person collaboration time with their colleagues that they wouldn’t normally get while they are teleworking. This may be as simple as meeting a colleague at a nearby coffee shop, or in another location somewhere with a secure network connection. Employers may also invest in software that employees are able to use to reserve certain office space within the organization’s offices.
If all of these expectations are met and management works together with employees to create clear and concise guidelines for employees who will be teleworking, the organization will ultimately benefit in numerous ways. Employees will also feel empowered as they are trusted to do their work without Managers being able to visually see them working. The organization will benefit as teleworking is a cost-effective measure saving employers on average $11,000 for one employee that teleworks half of their time on the clock (entrepreneur.com). There are some true advantages to teleworking and when done correctly, management and employees together make their organizations a more effective place to work.
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Written by: Patrick McKenna, SHRM-CP