Location: Durham, NC
Employees: 95 employees with ability to telework
Start of Telework Program: Over a decade ago
Contact: Michelle Parker, Sustainable Travel Services Manager
Things to Think About When Starting a Telework Program
I think it is important to make sure that when you begin a telework program, people are aware that teleworking is not necessarily something different. While you may be at a different location, a telework day comes with all the expectations and responsibilities as a day of work in the office. There are certainly tasks that are more conducive to working from home, things that need uninterrupted time, but generally the facilitation of the workday should be the same.
Also important in managing expectations is to make it clear that teleworking is not guaranteed; it is a privilege that can be revoked or suspended at any time. For example, if there is a meeting or some other obligation that requires a person to come in on a telework day, they are still expected to be there just like everyone else.
Keys to Managing a Successful Telework Program
With people out of the office on telework days, I try and ensure a similar “arrival” but having my team sign on and give me a list of activities for which they are working on as well as any other information about the day, for example a lunch break or if they plan on leaving early. That kind of establishes a beginning to the workday and lets me know when I should expect people to be responsive to my emails or phone calls.
Additionally, even though people aren’t sitting at their desks, we want everyone else in the office to know that we are still available. Therefore, we are very diligent about keeping our office calendars up to date and have calls forwarded. In the office, I even have people put up signs on their computer screens and on the office doors that reiterate that we are all still working and available, so please don’t hesitate to call us.
Technology Considerations in Telework Programs
I think it is most important to understand that technological tools are really going to vary, not just be departments or teams, but by individuals. We’ve had a number of software recommendations come down from higher up, but usually there aren’t a lot of people that embrace these and they don’t end up becoming useful. So you just have to be flexible and know your colleagues. For example, in working with my team, there are some people that I email a lot, some people I Skype chat with, others I know are better to call, and there is even one individual that I work with via G-chat because we’ve found that to work well for our needs. So it just depends.
Also, it is critical to make it clear who is responsible for maintenance for hardware and software. For example, all of our staff are responsible for their own hardware and software – things like their computer or a phone, as well as anti-virus software that our company requires. Additionally, when staff have computer issues, our IT department is only responsible for helping them with connectivity issues, not necessarily issues with their computer itself. We spell this out very clearly in our telework agreement, as well as a technology agreement that they have to sign.
Overcoming Downsides of Teleworking
One thing we found is that teleconference meetings don’t work that well for all types of projects. For example, since a lot of what we do is marketing, it involves a lot of graphical work, and we found that trying to edit and work on these things as a team simply didn’t work over the phone, we all had to be there are go over it together. So now we make sure to do those during a meeting when everyone is in the office.
In fact, in many ways we consider our office days, meeting days. We generally schedule a lot of meetings together in big teams and small, to make sure we are all interacting and getting on the same page. Then telework days are good for focusing and getting things done without distraction.
Additional Advice from your Experience with Teleworking
We have found that structured telework days – regular days where everyone teleworks, are much better than an ad hoc system of teleworking one or two days. We had that system previously and it often just became too much work to try to accommodate everyone for meetings. So now we have a structured system so that we know when people will be in the office and when they won’t.