What are the benefits of teleworking?
Before we talk about how to do it properly, I want to take a minute and quickly brain dump some of the benefits of teleworking. Not every organization will identify with every one of the items on this list but you should be able to pick out a couple that are applicable to your reality.
- The environmental benefits Whether you believe in this point because of your commitment to the environment or simply because of the monetary savings it provides, this is a reality most organizations will highlight.
- Transportation savings Whether your employees use cars, busses or trains, it is easy to see how not having to “come in” to work presents obvious savings. Savings related to fuel, oil changes, discarded parts (i.e. tires, belts, etc). It is widely believed that if more people teleworked, road congestion would also drop, significantly alleviating traffic.
- Energy consumption The local branch of a worldwide computer consulting company in Montreal (Quebec) had a huge office capable of comfortably housing 4000 employees and thousands of servers. Costing thousands to heat, cool and keep running. Over the years, they started implementing a telework policy that saw the number of in-office employees dwindle to less than 35. This meant they could move into a much smaller office thereby consuming less energy (which in turn meant less costs). Employees already have to heat and cool their homes so the actual benefit to the environment was also huge.
- Land savings As much as companies want to encourage their employees to use public transportation, it is not practical for the great majority of North Americans. As such, most choose to take their vehicles in to work, which not only impacts the above points, it also means companies now have to plan for parking. Buildings and parking facilitates have to get bigger, consuming lots of valuable real-estate.
- Work-life balance is key and increased productivity I have rarely met someone who is less stressed today than they were 10 years ago. Top of most people’s lists is the balancing of their personal and professional lives. Until recently, few employees could work from home without severely impacting their productivity but recent technological advancements mean most could do it today and actually be more productive.
Here is a great video of why people rarely get work done at work:
It allows the employee to work in a way that is most efficient and productive for them instead of forcing them to become mindless office drones.
Reduced stress usually means healthier employees. Having implemented telework strategies for dozens of companies, I have found that the employees become much happier and much more productive. Instead of wasting time in traffic, they can start working sooner. Instead of leaving earlier to beat the rush, they tend to work later. At lunch, they can work while eating. When they are sick, they are likely to still check-in and get some work done.
- Reduces employee turnover Telework makes employees happier. Happier employees are less likely to “jump ship” as they place a high value on the benefit of freedom. In turn, this means more consistent productivity for the company, with less training costs and the ability to retain their most valuable people.
- Choose the best A consistent complaint most companies have is the lack of qualified resources to fill their key jobs. Often they settle for 2nd or 3rd best because of this. Telework means you could hire the best people regardless of where they live. The world is your oyster. Also, by spreading your employees, you reduce your company’s exposure against natural, political and human risks (aka all your eggs aren’t in one basket).
I’m sold! How do I implement it properly?
The companies that successfully implement telework are those that understand that it is more than just buying “some technology”. See technology as more of an enabler and not the means to your desired teleworking end.
A successful implementation requires a redesign of the work arrangement and related processes, it requires a paradigm shift within management and a very senior corporate executive who is committed to “making it work”.
Your senior sponsor will champion this cause. He or she will need to ensure the technology is ready, the processes are optimized and that people understand the how, what, when and why.
- Have a vision of how you will mesh the technology, people and processes together to ensure the success of your telework initiative. Do not let technology limitations define your go-forward strategy. Define the strategy, then find the technology that meets your requirements.
- Conduct a SWOT analysis to clearly define where telework will help and leverage this to sell the idea to management and the employees.
- Most industries have started implementing telework strategies so you can study their strengths/weaknesses when designing your plans. If you are in an industry where there is little or no adoption of telework yet, you may want to wait. I rarely encourage being the “guinea pig”.
- Understand and accept that there will be unforeseen issues. Be prepared to quickly identify them and implement corrections. My operations management mantra has always been “plan for the worst and hope for the best”.
A high level walkthrough?
Part of your analysis will revolve around defining which jobs to actually enable for telework. Ask yourself how moving this position offsite will impact the business, coworkers and the customers? It is important to understand that not all jobs can be done via telework and not all jobs can be done 100% via telework. Decide early on how you will handle the jobs that require partial presence.
Once you have identified the positions you will enable telework for, you need to look at the human aspect. Determine what profile of employee you believe can telework successfully. Turn your attention to the ideal telework employee.
- Define what characteristics your ideal telework employee will possess. This is a great activity for your senior HR experts. Think in terms of personality, belief and principle.
- I can’t tell you how often I have heard managers say “If I can’t see them, how do I know they are working”. This dated ill-thought belief bothers me to no end. Make sure your managers are progressive and open-minded. Then make sure you define how you will identify employees with strong work ethics and integrity.
- What skills will make the chosen employees successful? Think in terms of being autonomous and self sufficient. Another trait you may want to spend time on is communications. Telework presents some communication challenges which require some skill and panache.
- How will you train your managers on how to make teleworkers feel like part of the team? How should they schedule and run meetings? How do they communicate news and changes in an equitable fashion (onsite and telework)?
- How will you make your telework employees feel part of the team? You have to find a way to make them feel connected? This may include some onsite meetings, special hands-on training, events, etc.
- Determine what metrics you will use to judge the performance of your telework strategy and how you will equitably measure the performance of your onsite/telework teams.
- Define an exit strategy for employees who want to return to the more traditional work model. As beneficial as telework is (to both the company and employee), some will want to come back to the rigor of the traditional model. Define a mechanism for employees to do this without “losing face”.
Just as I ask you to choose employees with integrity, so to must your process show this trait. Every employee must understand why they were chosen or why they were not chosen. Be careful not to create resentment and poison the work environment. Be clear and communicate often to everyone.
Train… Train… Train…
- The most obvious is to ensure the chosen employees understand how to use the technology and processes.
- Less obvious but just as important is to help your employees define how they will draw the line between work and their personal lives when it all happens in the same place. This is critical since failure here may destroy the entire process. Successful implementation of the work-life balance means dedicated, highly productive employees that will be very hard for your competitors to steal. Badly implementing this means poisoning the employee/employer relationship and pushing them to find other jobs.
- Provide extensive help designing, acquiring and installing their home work environment. Do not try to save money by forcing your employee to manage. Pay for the proper work environment including desk, lighting, office supplies, etc. This is not the place to be cheap.
My most successful implementations have been environments where the companies have implemented telework coaches. These are senior extravert employees that can be relied on to carry the torch and help their fellow employees.
- Provide ongoing “on the job” training and support related to telework. I usually like to have them organize weekly touch points to ensure the connection is there. They should also be ready to provide one on one support when required.
- Provide unbiased feedback to the executives about what works and what doesn’t. There needs to be an easy mechanism for this 2-way communication between these key players and the sponsors.
- Provide social proof to sell the idea to other managers and employees. These people will become company evangelists not only to existing employees but to potential ones.
Experience and planning leads me to believe that as you find more ways to connect the employee to the company (telework, mobile devices, etc), they will actually spend more of their personal time working. The younger generations are already used to building virtual social networks, which makes your job much easier. Parents with children will be less absent because they will be able to balance their personal responsibilities with their jobs.
Your managers need to understand that the increased connectedness does not give them the right to impede upon the employee’s personal time or life. The employee needs to know that being connected is a freedom they have and will not turn into an expectation by their manager.
You will not have a choice but to implement a telework strategy if you are to remain competitive. You can either start early and plan properly, or get dragged in and risk negatively impacting your business.