An Expert's Opinion

Teleworking - An Expert's Opinion

Elham Shirazi, a recognized expert on teleworking, gives advice to help minimize the barriers to embracing teleworking in an organization.

Elham Shirazi, a recognized expert on teleworking, gives advice to help minimize the barriers to embracing teleworking in an organization.

Q: What is teleworking (What is it not)?

A: Teleworking refers to working at a distance. Most teleworking today occurs at home, but some employees telework at another location, on the road or at a client.

Q: I want to start teleworking, what should I do first, and how should I approach my supervisor?

A: The first thing to do is gain management commitment. It is best to be prepared to speak to management by pulling together information that will allow you to sell teleworking’s benefits not only for you personally but as a fit or enhancement to your organization’s operation. The Clean Air Campaign provides helpful tools for getting started, talking to your supervisor and implementing a teleworking program so that you can take that first step.

Q: What are the top benefits for employers; benefits for employees?

A: Employer benefits include improved recruitment and retention of employees, increased productivity in the range of 10-20 percent, and a reduction in absenteeism by two to four days per teleworkers per year.

Employees benefit from reduced stress and expenses associated with commuting, improved morale, improved work/life balance and saving two to three hours per day by not commuting.

Q: When consulting with an organization setting up a program for the first time, what is the most common problem, or barrier, you encounter? What would an employee expect to encounter when discussing teleworking with management?

A: Two issues typically surface. One is related to managing employee productivity, and the other is how do we deal with equity issues, when some employees can telework while others cannot.

Q: How do you overcome these problems or barriers?

A: Managing employees’ productivity remotely is not a new concept. In fact, many managers already manage a workforce that is distributed. In most situations, employers realize that not much changes about managing productivity. Managers still measure the quality, quantity and timeliness of work. Managers are encouraged to call, e-mail, and otherwise contact teleworkers to ask questions. The only difference is the location of work…nothing else changes.

Employees wanting to telework should address management’s concerns about productivity when planning their discussion with the supervisor. The discussion plan could include methods for reporting work progress and communicating on a regular basis.

As for equity, teleworking is usually not introduced as a universal employee benefit. It is merely a work arrangement that may be suitable for some jobs and some employees. This is not a program that is designed to be equitable. It is not an entitlement.

Q: How much time should someone in an organization expect to devote to setting up a program for the first time?

A: Developing and overseeing a program can take about 20 percent of an employee’s time for the first three months. Most of that time is devoted to consensus building within the organization, developing policies, developing selection criteria, working with IT on remote access, training participants and troubleshooting. After the first three months, most programs don’t require much time to manage thereafter. Once the procedures are developed the program should be housed within Human Resources, with eligibility and guidelines readily available. Contact The Clean Air Campaign for help on implementation steps and timeframes.

Employees should be aware of the time commitments and functions when formulating a discussion with a supervisor. Guidelines for preparing a proposal for management have been prepared by The Clean Air Campaign.

Q: What is the current trend within organizations when it comes to teleworking? Do they do all or nothing, what percentage within organizations generally telework, do most start from top down or bottom up?

A: Teleworking is not appropriate for every employee or every job. While teleworking can be appropriate for most levels of employees the job has to lend itself to teleworking, the employee has to have the right skills and self-motivation, the remote access and connectivity need to work, and the supervisor must be comfortable with remote management. Effective programs start with a pilot. Commitment from middle and upper middle management is key to the program’s success.

Q: What is the best method for executing a pilot program (number of people to involve, length of time for pilot to produce results, with whom to start)?

A: Pilot programs are an excellent method of testing the impact of a teleworking program on an organization. Typically a 10 percent participation level is appropriate for most pilot programs, conducted over a six month time period. It takes at least six months for programs to settle in. A trial period also allows for enough time to troubleshoot technology or communication issues.

Q: What is the most common reason that teleworking programs fail? How can this be avoided?

A: Lack of planning is the greatest issue. Other issues include a failure to test technological capabilities ahead of time and a failure to formalize company criteria and procedures. Management commitment is also key to the success of a teleworking program.

To keep such issues from arising, I think it is critical that a steering committee be formed at the outset of the process. This steering committee should develop formal program guidelines and procedures and communicate program goals to management and employees. As the program is being rolled out, the steering committee should be one step ahead of the game, anticipating technological and human resource issues and fixing as needed.

Q: Once management commitment is obtained, what are the steps to implementing a teleworking program?

A:

  1. Select a telework coordinator
  2. Work with an internal steering committee
  3. Develop selection criteria, policies and procedures
  4. Provide remote access
  5. Select and train pilot participants and managers
  6. Troubleshoot
  7. Expand the program

Contact The Clean Air Campaign to get suggested timelines for implementing these steps.

Q: How often and how should a program be evaluated once it is in place?

A: Discussion forums should be held with teleworkers and their managers after two to three months. These forums should occur as two separate groups. These meetings will allow for troubleshooting mid-stream and provide qualitative information on the program. At six-month intervals, a survey can be used to compile information on impact on the organization, the employee and manager response, and other issues such as impact on travel behavior and air quality.

Q: How does metro Atlanta’s receptivity to teleworking compare with similar regions across the nation? Are we ahead of the game, on par or lagging?

A: Metro Atlanta is a hot bed of activity for teleworking. Long commutes combined with large numbers of corporate headquarters, political support and the ubiquity of high speed Internet access have created a great environment for the adoption of teleworking.

Q: Are there some organizations or industries jumping on the band wagon more often than others?

A: Teleworking cuts across all industry types; we have had inquiries from manufacturing, health, education, religious, non-profits, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, engineering, oil and energy, government, and many other types of industries.

Q: Given the global concerns about disaster issues – from flu pandemics to terrorism, what role can teleworking play in an organization’s strategic planning for disaster recovery and business continuity?

A: Business continuity is a term that is generally used to describe the processes and procedures an organization puts in place to ensure that essential functions can continue during and after a disaster.

Teleworking is being widely used as a business continuity strategy by contingency and emergency planners. After 9/11, many New York-based firms started teleworking. For the purposes of pandemic planning, teleworking is being used as a “social distancing” tool. Social distancing refers to methods employed to protect individuals from coming in contact with each other in situations where it may be detrimental to the health of all.

Many organizations have formal plans for dealing with disaster recovery related to the organization’s vital information or records. These programs are generally implemented and maintained by Human Resource or Information Technology departments. However, it is important to make the connection that contingency planning encompasses all aspects of keeping a business up and running after a disaster including commuting options for employees.

Q: What teleworking services are available from The Clean Air Campaign?

A: The Clean Air Campaign can help organizations of all sizes with all aspects of program development, from marketing the program to management, working with the coordinator and steering committee to develop policies, selection criteria, assessing the technology infrastructure, conducting a job assessment, training the selected employees and their managers, and evaluating the program. You will emerge with a turnkey, successful operation.

They are also a resource for individual employees interested in getting a teleworking program started at their organization. Contact The Clean Air Campaign at 1-877-CLEANAIR or check out the teleworking online resources.