Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, telework has become something we need to do rather than just an option to consider. While we may be forced into doing this by current circumstances, this might be a good time to evaluate your thinking about telework as well as your process for doing this. The first question you need to ask yourself is this: How do I view telework? Do I see it as a viable solution to our needs in delivering services? Or do I see it as a temporary and distasteful necessity until “normal” returns?
Why should we start with these questions? Because many managers and leaders are older, mostly baby boomers. Telework represents something they are not used to, and is a huge change from the way we have always done it. Your views on telework will go a long way toward whether efforts to incorporate it into your business are successful or fail miserably. Look at it as an annoyance, and you may subconsciously sabotage the effort or fail to give it a fighting chance. Look at it as a work in progress that will require refinement with experience, and you may have a very successful new tool for your business. Perhaps by looking at some of the ways in which you can ensure success, it will be easier to embrace this as a viable option going forward.
Determining the appropriate use of telework
The process for implementing telework should start with deciding what work can realistically be performed from your employees’ homes. There may be some functions that can only be provided face to face, or by using the specialized equipment and technology that is in your worksites. These days, however, many things can be done remotely. These include answering phones, developing contracts, filing reports and sending information to customers and clients. Take a good look at all workplace duties, and decide which ones can be done from home with no drop off in quality or efficiency. Another thing to consider when deciding whether to do this: the interconnected nature of work. In the office, employees have access to each other instantly. How do we accomplish that remotely? Here at Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP Services, we use a secure instant messenger (IM) technology called Jabber. The staff chat with each other in real time no matter where they are located. Twenty years ago, this was not common in the workforce. Today, it makes the connectivity issue moot. Services are provided to our clients with the same efficiency whether the staff is in the office or remote. Advances in technology may make telework a very real option for many of your employees.
Telework PolicyThe next step is to have a solid telework policy. Solid policy should govern all workplace activities. Having a comprehensive policy for telework is no different. The policy should include, at a minimum, the following:
- Definition of telework, including the “voluntary nature” of this option, if applicable
- Qualifications of eligible staff (skill set required, history of satisfactory performance, lack of home distractions, etc.)
- Work from home space and technology requirements
- Supplies, equipment and technology to be provided by the employer
- Information access and security
- Work schedule, recording of hours, daily work progress reporting
- Performance evaluation; method and frequency
- Applicability of all other workplace policies and procedures (sick leave, PTO, etc.)
- Training requirements: how to use equipment and software, protocols for video conferencing, etc.
- Service interruptions (e.g., system issues, power outages, internet outages, etc.)
- Staff availability
- Remote work etiquette
How do I (or anyone) know remote employees are working?
One of the questions we hear often from employers is, “How do I know the employees are working?” Interestingly, this same question can also become a perceived sore spot for employees who work in the office, when discussing the telework staff. Not being able to answer this question honestly opens the door for failure, and can lead to workplace distrust and resentment. To address this, make sure that the work requirements for telework are clearly spelled out. Include duties, but focus on product and production, not just activity. Does it matter more if they do a lot of things, or the important things? Staff can be incredibly busy doing good things, but not necessarily the best things. Having specific productivity goals will ensure that the employee is doing as much as their in-office counterparts. Setting up a daily reporting system and electronic review process will help manage this worker effectively.
Schedules and Time Off
Remote workforce staff should have a set schedule and be required to work during regular business hours if their normal duties/responsibilities are to cover that shift; any extended or shortened hours should require approval from the direct supervisor prior to the shift worked. Remote workforce staff members should be required to follow your corporate attendance policy regarding notification requirements when reporting off or requesting time off from work.
One of the keys to success with telework is to change our preconceived notions about what this is and how it works. This is not something that all employees need to do. It can be part of your company’s comprehensive service delivery system. Telework employees do not have to work solely from home, they may spend part of their time in the office or on the road meeting with customers. Again, this is not an all or nothing proposition. You may believe that telework is only for your staff. The truth is, with today’s technology, a lot of the work that management does can be done remotely. Consider adding yourself and your managers to the telework option. You may find that you get a lot more done in less time without the constant interruptions that occur in a day in the office. It is also a positive to lead by example, and your participation in telework will demonstrate your support of this option to your staff.
Make good decisions about equipment
This is one area where some business leaders get hung up. When deciding on what new equipment and technology to invest in, make sure that you get those things that will allow your staff to work seamlessly from remote locations. The goal is to provide the same or better services from home. Your business’s reputation is on the line here. Do not skimp on quality or features that are necessary to do the job correctly. Equipment failures and interruptions are time killers, and lacking the proper resources means not being able to get the job done in an efficient and effective manner. Money spent on the right resources now will pay dividends down the road. Cost savings for supplies, travel, slow, older technology and office space should more than pay for your capital investment in short order.
One concern that arises is the issue of isolation for remote workers. Because humans are social creatures, we value the connectedness that comes from being together. Working alone from home can lead to feelings of isolation, especially for the extroverts on your staff. To combat this possibility, it is important that remote staff have the ability to communicate with you and their coworkers every day. Email and texting are fine, but I believe telephone calls should be part of the mix as well as software programs that allow them to connect with other staff in real time.
While telework can be a great option, you will have to decide if it can enhance your operation. I believe that if you do add telework, make sure it is implemented knowing that you may have to make adjustments as your experience with it evolves. As we gain more experience with telework, it will become more integrated into your service delivery system. Looking down the road, I believe that working from home will become as commonplace as ordering things online and asking your smartphone for directions. Getting a head start on this technology-driven change may give you a leg up on the competition and position your business for success in the future.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but she has other children as well. Their names are opportunity, creativity and success. Learn to appreciate all of them for what they can give you.