Telling someone you’re teleworking no longer leads to raised eyebrows or questions about how you’re able to make that work. It’s now considered just another way to get work done.
We’ve all heard the advantages of a telework environment:
• Increased productivity (up to 27% increase in productivity in a recent meta-study)
• Better recruiting (flexible work environment is now the #1 recruiting tool for new employees)
• Ability to respond to emergencies (Continuity of Operations in event disaster makes office spaces untenable)
• Reduced absenteeism (63% reduction for teleworkers in GSA study)
• Job satisfaction (Partnership for Public Service study found those Federal employees not given telework option were least likely to be satisfied)
Here’s what most people don’t realize: a telework environment creates better leaders. Here’s why:
• Telework requires a focus on results, and not on activities. When employees telework, leaders can’t tell how long they worked on a project, or the means by which they accomplished their tasks. All they can see are the results of the work – a completed report; a presentation; data analysis, etc. That drives leaders to focus on clearly identifying the desired results at the start of a project. It also requires a more thorough analysis of the task before it’s given to the teleworker since daily updates/subtle corrections aren’t as easy when leaders and employees don’t share office space.
• Telework requires clear identification of communications protocols and expectations; e.g. when is a phone call appropriate; when is an e-mail better; when should a meeting be held. It also reduces the number of meetings and/or requires better planning for meetings. The dreaded “let’s just get together and chat about this” time sink is greatly reduced.
• Telework requires employees to make themselves more visible. To ensure teleworkers are accomplishing their work, many supervisors ask for weekly accomplishment reports. In the interest of fairness, they often ask the same of in-the-office employees. This provides an opportunity for individuals to clearly identify their accomplishments, which makes them more visible and identifies more clearly their impact on the organization. It also makes performance appraisal time much simpler for all concerned because a running tally of accomplishments have been made.
• Telework requires enhanced responsiveness. When individuals are given the chance to telework, they typically increase their responsiveness to show that telework is effective and that they’re at their desks accomplishing their assigned tasks.
Here’s the thing about these four elements: we should be doing this all the time. Everyone wants to know what results are expected and appreciate not being micro-managed; all offices should have clearly established communications protocols and expectations; the accomplishment of employees should be open and visible; and employees should hold themselves to a level of responsiveness that meets the needs of the team.
The hidden benefit of telework is that it gets us back to leadership fundamentals, which all leaders need to focus on in pursuit of the organization’s mission and goals.