If a co-worker types at home and there is no one there to see or hear it, does any work get done?

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I was at an association executive function the other day and the topic of telework came up at lunch. Interestingly enough, but not surprising, there were a variety of viewpoints.

Viewpoint A came from an app developer CEO. His 45-person company has been completely virtual since day one. They have never had office space and they “use the crap” out of Skype and other tools to keep everyone connected and communicating. They do some deep dives during the hiring process to ensure everyone they hire can work in a virtual office environment and they actually prefer not to hire folks that have worked in a traditional office setting because they feel it’s hard to transition from one to the other. They have staff located throughout the U.S. He, obviously, feels there is no need for a traditional office. He also feels that time is wasted in the traditional office and meetings are more effective when held virtually.

Viewpoint B came from an association Executive Director who went from having a half-dozen staff in an office environment to one that is completely virtual. The organization has found this to be very difficult. They made the change as a cost-saving measure because, when he took over, the association was struggling financially. They are now looking for an “office share” type of environment so they have a place to meet or work at once in a while. One of the interesting things he brought up is that he doesn’t like being in his home all the time. He needs to get out, to go somewhere; he needs to see something else and some other people.

Viewpoint C came from a CFO at an association with a staff of about 30. They just sold their building and are looking for some new space in DC. They have not supported telework in the past and don’t plan to in the future. There has been talk of it, but it gets bogged down in the usual conversation – how do you know someone is working if they are home? what about the people who aren’t capable of working that way? what about people who can’t work remotely because their roles require them to be on site? It isn’t fair.

I provided Viewpoint D. Our staff is a mixture. In our staff of roughly 40, we have some who come to the office daily, some who come a day or two a week, and those who come a couple of times a month. Also, there are some staff who are at client sites so much we only see them at staff meetings and events. We have hotel offices that are reserved by staff who come to the office on occasion. Our general rule is that if you commit to being at the office 80% of the time you’re not at a client site, you can set up camp and have a permanent office. If you work from home, you need to be online (we use Lync) and either have an IP phone or have your extension forwarded to your cell phone, so if someone dials your extension or direct dial, they can reach you easily. Sometimes we call each other on the phone, sometimes we IM, and sometimes we use video chat via Lync.

What we do works for us. I, for example, live about 5 minutes from our office so there really isn’t much of a commute to avoid. However, I know that if I spent my day at home, my family would interrupt me frequently and I’d be in our refrigerator every 7 minutes. Our dog would lower her ears and put on the sad eyes (how do they do that?) and want a walk constantly. Or she’d bring me a tennis ball and drop it at my feet over and over again until I cracked. The DelCorians who work from home know when they need to come to the office to get something done and when they can stay home or work remotely at the coffee shop and be just as productive (if not more so) than if they came to the office. We trust them to make those calls.

We started supporting telework when a former employee moved from the DC area to north of Baltimore. She worked remotely 3 or 4 days a week and traveled to the office once a week. That was 15 years ago. As technology has progressed, it has become easier to enable staff to telework and our culture certainly accepts it here at DelCor. Quality of life is important, so if we can avoid having someone spend 1.5 hours in their car, we are for it.

Some key considerations for telework:

  • Culture: This is the most important aspect of supporting telework. The organization’s culture needs to be trusting, open, and generally macro-management oriented.
  • Technology: The technology is the easy part. Just ask us and we can help you. ;)
  • Self-awareness: Not everyone is capable of working from home. Folks in your organization need to be honest with themselves and if they aren’t the type this will work for, they need to admit it and stick to the traditional.
  • Flexibility: Both the organization and the staff need to be flexible. Sometimes the schedule has to change and sometimes there are technical challenges that need to be resolved.
  • Macro-management: I mean that to be the opposite of micro-management. If you’re a micro-management organization (see Culture), don’t try this. Or, if face time = working hard, don’t try telework.

Can your organization support telework?

 

Flickr photo by citrixonline