General Questions about Telework
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What is the prevalence of telework?
Telework is the practice of employees working away from the office, either from home, another location, at a customer site or while traveling. Telework is a growing work option for companies of all sizes and types. Today, more than 33.7 million Americans (WorldatWork 2009) are working away from the office at least part-time. Just 10 years ago, that figure was 11.6 million – and in 1990, there were just 3.4 million teleworkers in the US. (Telework Advisory Group for WorldatWork. http://www.workingfromanywhere.org/) [top^]
Does telework affect employee productivity?
Most companies report an increase in performance through the initiation of telework from 3% to 30%. Teleworkers can better manage distractions that are non-work related, meet deadlines, and concentrate on the tasks. The most common characteristics associated with productivity, whether an employee teleworks or not, include: 1) work quality; 2) customer satisfaction; 3) meeting deadlines; and, very often, 4) quantity. Before implementing telework, it is important for an employer to clearly determine the methods by which it will measure performance.
Telework may bring attention to the systems or processes that support work. These work environment factors have been grouped into eight categories that may affect employee performance when telework is involved: It helps to take a look at these when telework is started.
1. Support Duties. What tasks could be reassigned, streamlined, eliminated or added to support staff duties? What tasks will teleworkers be required to do by themselves? What tasks are done best off-site?
2. Other Department Work Interfaces. Will other department functions need to change in order to support key results? How will work products be made available to teleworkers? How will response times be maintained? What kind of adaptation in information exchange or flow will be needed?
3. Communications. What types of co-worker, supervisor and team communications, both written and verbal, are needed to maximize performance results? What types of face-to-face meetings are needed?
4. Document Security. What documents can the telework take out of the office? How will legal/confidentiality guidelines or company policies affect or impede data sharing, document transfer or telecommunications when the telework is off-site?
5. Database. How will current database requirements (availability, speed, accuracy) need to change to support teleworkers?
6. Equipment/Technology. What types of technology are absolutely essential? What types are secondary? What are the financial limits on purchase or leasing of needed technology?
7. Teleworker Work Schedule and Attendance. How will the teleworker's flexible work hours affect results? What types of back-up or emergency support is expected from teleworker?
8. Emergency Back-Up. What is the definition of an emergency? What types of situations will require in-house staff back-up? What is the strategy to reach the telework(s) in an emergency?
Each of the factors listed above are crucial to the performance of an employee, and especially if the employee is out of the office much of the time. If there is a deficiency in the role these factors play in the office, it may be magnified when employees telework. [top^]
Are teamwork and telework possible at the same time?
Absolutely! In fact, teamwork can actually be improved and the team can maintain more effective ties when telework is part of the job. The success of the team relies on three factors: 1) accountability, 2) communication and 3) technology.
Accountability - Teleworkers should be expected to return e-mail, phone calls and text messages on a regular basis and to finish their work on time and in a professional manner. The teleworker should expect the same from their managers. When a team is spread over a distance, accountability is a crucial part of the equation. Teleworkers who fit the profile of a good teammate, are in the habit of being accountable and most likely will have no trouble contributing to the success of the team.
Communication –While telework focuses on other types of communication rather than "old-fashioned" face-to-face discussion, it also benefits from regular, effective meetings, especially if there is a team involved. These can be conducted via conference call or interactive meeting technology ensuring team members understand their roles and progress. In short, the team must adapt and evaluate the communication between its members in order to effectively achieve the goals it has established.
Technology - Technology increases the ease and effectiveness of communication and telework. From simple telephone calls or ground mail, to videoconferencing and texting, team members should use as many forms of communication technology as possible to do their jobs effectively. Technology does increase the ease and speed with which a group can operate if all the members are on the same page. It also makes telework that much more practical in a team setting. [top^]
Do teleworkers only work for large companies?
Recent studies have shown that many teleworkers work for small companies. There are several reasons that smaller companies also embrace telework: 1) as a rule of thumb, they are more likely to be willing and able to quickly and effectively implement telework work arrangements; 2) many are striving to become bigger and are looking for ways to reduce the costs associated with new employees while increasing output; and 3) for small companies, changing policy isn't as difficult or time consuming as it may be in larger companies. [top^]
Can teleworkers be non-exempt, hourly employees?
Teleworkers are the same as other employees. They can be paid hourly or can be salaried. Typical telework jobs that are hourly include medical transcriptionist, secretary, data entry, and customer service representative. Federal law mandates the reporting of hours worked by non-exempt (hourly) staff for both in-house and telework employees. State law varies on definitions of employee rights and entitlements. All hours worked, including regular pay and overtime hours, must be well documented.
It is also important to consider aspects of travel for teleworkers. Hourly employees whose primary office is at home must be paid for the time it takes them to travel to the company's office. The company is not required to pay that employee for mileage, only for their time, and only if the teleworker’s main office is at home. A general rule of thumb is that the primary office is a location where employees work more than 50% of their time. [top^]
Do teleworkers have difficulty advancing in their careers?
This question is most often asked because people think that teleworkers are "never around" (the out of sight/out of mind argument). In fact, many teleworkers are in the office more than they are at home, just working remotely just one or two days a week and working in the office the rest of the time. Therefore, they are not easily forgotten. Also, most teleworkers are given the chance to work outside of the office because they show initiative, responsibility and decision making abilities. In the long run, these are qualities that make a person an above-average candidate for promotion. [top^]