Teleworking on a large scale was pioneered by the U.S. Government as a way to save money and retain valued employees. Since then, more and more companies are adopting the idea, and saving money using telework. But it takes a significant commitment to make the leap into a company that can use teleworkers. Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange, explains how to make it work for your company.
Americans are mobile: laptops, BlackBerrys and Wi-Fi are ubiquitous in today's culture. As a result, it's understandable that telework and flexible work schedules are gaining momentum in the workplace. Telework, which these same technologies help enable, provides employees with a stronger work-life balance, lowers their commuting times and costs, and increases their productivity.
Telework is also vital to organizations for recruitment and retention efforts, business continuity and real estate cost savings. Plus, who doesn't want to be environmentally conscious?
Before we get into the "how-to's" of telework, let's define it. Telework is working from home, or from a local telework center, during regular business hours on a full-time, part-time, or situational basis. Telework is not working extra hours at home on nights or weekends. So, how do we move telework into the fast lane? Here are some steps your organization can take to reap the benefits of teleworking.
Ready?-Becoming Telework Friendly
Telework Exchange and TANDBERG, a leading global provider of telepresence, high-definition videoconferencing and mobile video products and services, announced a study in February 2008 entitled, "Telework Eligibility Profile: Feds Fit the Bill". The study highlighted responses from Telework Exchange's Online Telework Eligibility Gizmo, a quiz-based calculator which helps employees determine their telework eligibility.
The study, focused on driving federal government telework programs, found that many federal employees are unaware of their eligibility to telework. The study underscores the fact that there is a major federal telework deficit between who is eligible to telework and who is actually teleworking.
To telework effectively, respondents identified the following necessary job requirements: reliable communication methods (i.e., e-mail and phone), remote access to an organization's IT infrastructure, a safe alternative work environment and the ability to control one's schedule to a significant degree. So, what's the next step to determine eligibility? Try the Online Telework Eligibility Gizmo for yourself.
Now that you're "friendly" to the idea, here's how to conquer some of the speed bumps you may encounter when kicking off your telework program.
If your organization does not have a telework policy in place, Telework Exchange recommends the creation of a policy that clearly outlines program objectives, equipment, training and evaluation. Outlining clear, frequent and positive communication between co-workers is essential for success. Telework Exchange recommends the adoption of an "opt-in" policy, successfully used by DISA (Defense Information System Agency). This type of policy calls for all employees to be telework-eligible (unless proven otherwise) to offset management resistance.
Teleworkers need specific technologies to complete their job tasks from remote locations. Defining specific, authorized-user devices and connections makes safe and managed telework easier to accomplish. A comprehensive plan results in increased productivity without unnecessary costs and complexity. And, data security must remain top of mind.
Telework Exchange encourages organizations to delegate resources to manage their telework programs. This individual (or team) is essential for marketing the program to employees and managers, coordinating telework efforts, organizing training, launching pilots, and establishing a cohesive program that follows the established goals and objectives. Keep communications open between the human resources and information technology offices. Everyone must be involved in order to make it successful.
Training is essential for both teleworker and non-teleworker employees, as well as managers. Knowledgeable employees better understand and successfully adapt to the cultural shift created by telework. If management resistance is a barrier to telework adoption, focus on management-specific pilot programs. In January 2007, Telework Exchange's "Face-to-Face with Management Reality" study found that managers become more favorable to telework as they either manage teleworkers or telework themselves.
High-level support is a crucial element to the success of a telework program. Lurita Doan, administrator at the GSA (General Services Administration) provides an example of telework leadership through her call for 50 percent of GSA-eligible staff to be teleworking by the end of 2010. The GSA administrator hopes that other agency leaders will follow her example.
Go!-Launching a Telework Program
Telework Exchange recommends starting small and tracking performance. Once the initial steps are completed, launch pilot programs, including management-specific programs. Be sure to test the functionality of telework within your organization. A telework performance system to track usage, as well as productivity, should be implemented to alleviate concerns and serve as a tool to monitor and report results to the organization.
Follow up and survey pilot participants and managers to find out what was successful and what needs to be modified.
Establishing a successful telework program is a multi-step process that requires clear parameters, thorough training, proper equipment and support, leadership from top management, and careful evaluation. Use these key steps to shift telework into drive at your organization.
Cindy Auten is the General Manager for the Telework Exchange. Telework Exchange launched in April 2005, recognizing minimal agency and employee awareness on telework initiatives. It is a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework and serving the emerging educational and communication requirements of the federal teleworker community.
The organization provides a venue for federal employees interested in telework, those currently teleworking, assigned coordinators, federal managers, information technology professionals, and telework proponents to dialogue on driving telework in the federal government. Cindy Auten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.