Can Teleworkers Really Be Productive?

President Obama once said, “work is what you do, not where you do it” in a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility. His comment was in support of teleworking to achieving resilient workplaces. However, teleworking has recently received a bad rap from a nationwide survey conducted by CareerBuilderearlier this year. The study involved almost 5,300 Americans that worked from home or some other remote locati

Telework can lead to increased productivity with the right leadership and focus.

on on a regular basis. What the survey uncovered was astounding. Only 35% of teleworkers said they work eight hours or more with 17% admitting to only working one hour or less in a typical day. Thirty-one percent of participants listed household chores as a main distraction while working from home followed by twenty-six percent listed television as the culprit keeping them from getting their work done.

Although the survey excluded government employees, you have to wonder how much of what the research uncovered is true in the public sector. Cindy Auten, General Manager at the Telework Exchange explains that telework policies and standards are stricter in the public sector compared to those enforced in the private sector. “There are a lot of performance management standards to uphold in the federal government, and in the private sector it’s really interesting that people can actually get away with not working.  That begs the question, how are they measured?” says Auten.  According to another study entitled, Federal Telework Progress Report: Making the Grade?, the majority of agencies are compliant with the initial goals of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010.

The research from this study does not lend a hand to the major hindrance in implementing telework.  Managers have been apprehensive in allowing their direct reports to work in a remote location. This apprehension stems from a lack of keeping up-to-date on what their employees are working on while they are away from the office. The Department of Energy has been successful in overcoming this barrier by encouraging mangers to embrace the resistance they have when it comes to telework. The agency currently has more than 80 percent of its 265 employees working in a telework environment and expect that number to grow to 95%. Senior Consulting Partner, Carmela Southers with The Ken Blanchard Companies explains, “Managers can make a mistake by overdoing performance management, without also managing the relationship. When that happens, people lose their level of engagement and feel that you only care about them for what they can produce. This can be particularly troublesome in a virtual relationship because remote workers can be more susceptible to leaving.”

Southers lists three strategies to be more successful in managing teleworkers:

  1. Be creative when it comes to relationship building
  2. Improve productivity, focus on structure
  3. Recognize that IT systems might have to change

Read more about how managers can remove their resistance to teleworking and support their direct reports in a virtual setting.

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  1. #1 by Candyce Edelen (@CandyceEdelen) on September 21, 2011 - 9:25 am

    Maybe managers need to measure teleworkers by what they produce, similar to independent contractors. Also, the survey should consider freelancers. Hundreds of thousands of freelancers and independent contractors are productively working from home or offsite every day. I’d posit that the problem is not working from home, but how work is assigned and measured, and how people are paid.

  2. #2 by Amy Boardman (@UnboredWoman) on September 21, 2011 - 9:52 am

    The concept that managers can’t see what their reports are doing off-site confuses me. Do managers watch their onsite employees every hour of every day? If so, teleworking, would improve everyone’s productivity. My direct report and I sit on opposite sides of the building, so we call, email and IM each other most of the time. I’m all about “I don’t care when, where or how you do it, just do it”.

  3. #3 by polly macomber on September 22, 2011 - 10:08 am

    Another consideration is: how much “work” are ONsite employees doing in the course of an 8 hour day? Also, what is considered “work”? Is checking and responding to email work? Are meetings? How about brainstorming with a coworker on ideas for that next big project? Are all these activities being measured, both onsite and from home? It important to compare apples to apples in any study of this nature.

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