The debate over the pros and cons of telework was once again making news following a recently released article in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest titled How Effective Is Telecommuting? Assessing the Status of Our Scientific Findings.
It’s a great overview offering an analysis of the benefits and the drawbacks. But, the bottom line is telework needs to be done properly to address a host of pressing problems many employers face in today’s workplace. That means configuring your telework options to match your organization’s strategic goals, tactical resources and culture.
Are long commutes getting your employees down while real estate costs just keep going up? Trying to cultivate a global market with a local workforce? Frustrated by finding the perfect new employee in the wrong location? You are not alone. Many organizations are confronting these challenges through telework to thrive despite changes to the product, job and real estate markets.
Telework is an opportunity to transcend the limits of real estate and commuting times and gain greater control over how, where and when work gets done. Even though ever more organizations are using some form of telework, many managers and employees still have questions about how to make the most of this opportunity. Below are ten essential tips for managers and employees from our free guide to telework best practices to make telework work.
Tips for Managers of Teleworkers
- Address your feelings about telework. Are you excited by a more mobile and flexible workforce or worried people will take advantage of you and your organization? It is OK to be wary of telework, especially if it is new or you’ve had a bad experience in the past. Use that wariness to make it better, ask hard questions and work out details. Everyone’s experience will be better for it.
- Evaluate outcomes, not methods. Don’t fall into the trap of judging whether an employee works the right way (usually the way same way you like to work) rather than what they accomplish. If you need to personally observe employees to have confidence in their performance, reconsider whether they should be on your team at all. Identify or establish ways to determine if a teleworker is making adequate progress on assignments without surprise visits to their cubicle (e.g., weekly update calls or emails). This frees both you and your staff from the limits of a single workplace and reduces distractions throughout your workdays.
- Use the right communication tools. Email, instant messenger, phone, video conferencing and occasional onsite visits are all ways to stay in touch with remote employees. Each of these methods varies in terms of how much they convey about tone and interactivity. The more sensitive or complex the topic of conversation, the more essential it is to use richer methods of communication. For example, email regular request for a standard report, but starting brand new product line should be discussed in person.
- Set expectations early for the entire team. Telework is about more than just being in a different place or using technology. It includes communication and cooperation throughout the team. Everyone who works together needs to feel comfortable with the communication technology and be kept apprised of each other’s schedules. Set expectations for how quickly people should respond to emails and whether teleworkers need to inform you when they are at their computers or are unavailable during the workday (e.g., at lunch or on a client call).
- Maintain contact. The most essential aspect of managing a teleworker is to stay in touch despite the distance. This includes calls when you need something in the moment, regular check-ins even when there is nothing pressing, and general social contact to build trust and collaborative relationships. If you are having a meeting where a teleworker can meet new people (leaders that might advance their career, other teleworkers or valued teammates), invite them to that event even if their physical presence isn’t necessary.
- Optimize your workspace. If you are planning on working from a home office space, maintain clear boundaries between your work and home spaces — ideally a separate room from the rest of your home activities. If a separate space isn’t reasonable, look for ways to transition your space between work and personal time. Invest in furniture that will keep you comfortable throughout the work day.
- Develop contingency plans for short notice meetings. Ask how the office will get in touch with you for spontaneous meetings. If there is no plan, help create one and then test the technology outside of those meetings. Finding that the video feed is not working and the phone has bad reception in the middle of an emergency meeting will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and reduce their investment in including you in these meetings.
- Prepare for performance reviews. Write down your work hours and tasks accomplished, either in a journal or through regular (usually weekly) emails with your manager and/or colleagues. Being able to look back through emails that show the history of your telework situation can help others feel more connected to you and the work you are doing. It will also provide an easy reference for your performance when doing your annual review.
- Manage relationships with your family and friends. Before you start working from home, take a moment and review regular work and break times; emergencies when you want them to interrupt you; and non-verbal signals (like a closed door, a sign, background music, etc.) for when you are on and off duty. There will be fewer hard feelings if people understand your telework situation in advance.
- Manage relationships with colleagues and clients. Your teammates are also affected by your telework schedule and how it interacts with their work flow and schedules. Encourage mutual feedback on how the team is working together by asking for feedback on your telework. How does it affect them? Can you get in touch with each other when you need to? If there are things you or your colleagues can do to help make telework more successful for everyone, discuss how you can make that a reality.