Who doesn’t telework these days? According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 25% of employees worked from home at least part of the time in 2016. For management and business, that number is even higher - close to 40%! Research touts the teleworking benefits of increased productivity and eliminating commute times. Employees seem to love the schedule flexibility and ability to work from home. In fact, the ability to telework is now the number two criterion for over 53 million workers in the U.S. – 33% would choose the ability to telework over a 10% salary increase. And 43% said they would change jobs to an employer that allowed telework!
Clearly, teleworking is extremely popular and probably here to stay, but does it really work?
Our team recently completed a 6-month evaluation of a government-sponsored telework pilot program to find out exactly that.
In the program, participants worked from home (or alternate location) three days per week and came into the physical office two days per week. Participants attended meetings regardless of working location (using virtual meeting software). Our evaluation included participants as well as supervisors and co-workers of teleworkers. We evaluated the following areas:
- Work-Life Balance
- Perception of Teleworking
What did we find? Telework works. Program participants communicated high levels of engagement, productivity, work-life balance, and flexibility. Overall, they expressed overwhelming enthusiasm for the option to telework. Supervisors and co-workers complemented these findings with high ratings of team cohesion and communication.
The only negative feedback about the program concerned technology. Creating a successful teleworking culture requires consistent software and hardware support to foster a high-quality meeting environment and promote team cohesion.
So, can we make teleworking even better? Here our top 10 tips for employees and supervisors:
- Invest in technology. Use a consistent and reliable platform for virtual meetings, such as Zoom or Adobe Connect. Also use the tools that are available – video, whiteboards, and document sharing make it much easier for everyone to stay engaged. Consider what else might be needed for telework spaces – an extra monitor? Dedicated IT support?
- Training is key. Training can help you and your staff work remotely more effectively and resolve issues faster. Training topics can range from standard video conferencing etiquette (such as microphone muting) and using virtual communication tools to troubleshooting techniques. Everyone can benefit from regular training on effectively managing and working in flexible workplaces. These opportunities exist both face-to-face and virtually using various e-learning platforms.
- Remain responsive. While teleworking, be responsive and available to communicate, just like you would in the office. Answer your phone and respond to messages as soon as possible. It is very difficult to work on a team if there is a lag in the conversation.
- Show support. Supervisors and co-workers should consider teleworkers when planning meetings and collaborating on projects. Think about ways to include teleworkers in a meaningful way. Also, use virtual collaboration tools to share documents and work on projects collectively. If you are the supervisor, be the first to adopt these strategies and encourage others to use them regularly.
- Create the space. Ensure your mobile office has the right space for productivity and efficiency. Scattering your work across the dining-room table may not be the best approach, especially if you must clear it every night and then set up again the next day. A home office or spare room— someplace where you can maintain continuity from session to session—can reduce disruptions and save time.
- Minimize interruptions. While you’re working, ignore emails and instant messages that don’t pertain to your job objectives. And, of course, make arrangements for child care or other dependent care during your telework time— as if you weren’t there at all.
- Stick to a routine. Ideally, the hours you telework should coincide—or at least overlap—with those of your manager and team members so that you and they can communicate during regular business hours. You may feel more productive during the evening or early morning – so plan to work through your to-do list then, but be available to be more responsive during (at least some) of regular business hours.
- Be prepared. Remember to bring home all the appropriate files or other materials you’ll need to meet your goals.
- Respect your personality. Extroverts need people. Without connection to others, extroverts can become depressed or restless. Be sure to include communication and interaction with others during your work day. Introverts thrive in isolation. Without the usual office interruptions, it’s possible to become too focused. Remember to take regular breaks to rest your eyes, stretch, take a walk—the same things you ought to do at the office to avoid repetitive stress injuries and fatigue.
- Mind your relationships. Nothing replaces face-to-face contact with managers and coworkers, so, while you’re off-site, try to be extra- conscientious about keeping them informed of your progress and apprised of delays or other issues that may impact them.