The growth of teleworking and telecommuting is enormous. It is important that we spend time developing leaders and managers who are able to manage this new and diverse employee group.
Teleworking and the associated challenges and benefits of leading a team who may not be located in the same site, are becoming more prominent in business as a result of technology, recognised cost-savings and employee attitudes. There are many potential benefits, however it adds significantly to the requirement for leaders to be even more effective in how they operate and to continue to develop new skills within the modern work environment.
Leading remotely can add to the challenge of building a team with the structural reality of many modern businesses and organisations requiring distributed or virtual teams. Technology, globalisation, organisational expectations and culture, management and leadership styles, along with many other factors must be taken into account. The leader in today’s environment should be able to strategise and connect, developing and connecting with their team in a meaningful, engaged and results-oriented manner.
For example, both the United States and Australian Governments have dedicated funding and resources to teleworking and its growth in coming years. In Australia the Federal Government is targeting a 100% increase in the number of employees teleworking between 2012 and 2020. This would be an increase from the existing 6% to 12% of the workforce, representing a significant slice of the workforce across multiple industries.
If this expected growth comes to fruition, the skills and abilities of leaders will need to not only keep up with the plan, but remain ahead of the growth, as remote management has such specific and unique requirements. I spent several years in national leadership roles managing teams based interstate, which provided many challenges.
When I review my own development timeline however, I recognise that those years spent in virtual leadership were some of the most important as they have shaped the leader I am today. I see communication and the tools applied by my team members to provide regular updates as two of the most important forums for success.
Implementing a telecommuting plan is much easier than many businesses have yet to realize. In fact, for the majority of jobs that are accomplished with a computer, the reasons for not allowing them are only a matter of a mind shift and understanding that the position can be done from home and productively. (1)
Developing systems for your team to be able to communicate their progress, update regularly and have a ‘virtual open-door’ to find a method of contact, as required, go some way to making remote work, work. The fact that the employee saves time and cost with less travel time can be offset by the challenge of working in the home.
The key to a successful year-round telecommuting program is to build it to fit your company and test out different home-working arrangements before committing to any one plan. Whether you are offering full telecommuting, or working from home during emergencies and other unique occasions, it’s an option with a lot of benefits for employers and employees alike. Even if companies allowed the option to work from home one or two days a week year-round, commuter congestion would be reduced by 20-40%. (1)
Technology, Occupational Health issues and physical attributes all need to be considered, but ultimately teleworking is about productivity, flexibility and meeting both business and personal needs.
I believe that the growth of teleworking and associated leadership impacts is so great I created a development program for leaders specifically designed to enhance remote leadership skills.
The program contains a mix of training and coaching to reinforce the key areas that are important to develop in order to effectively manage a team of remotely. Key focus areas include the ability to:
- Understand and apply management and leadership theories, practical skills and competencies to effectively lead a remote team.
- Recognise where the needs and situations differ between local and remote employees.
- Understand how to relate and connect with a team member who you do not physically see every day.
- Use technology and tools to the best advantage to minimise the impact of leading remotely and maximise the key principles of remote leadership.
- Apply learned techniques, skill and abilities in areas such as communication, building trust, accountability, structure, measuring effectiveness and employee development.
An organisation that decides to increase its teleworking presence should also ensure that its leadership model and ongoing employee / leadership development factors in the special requirements of leading a remote team. If it doesn’t, then you may find the challenge greater than the reward!
As far as I am concerned all of us should be measured by our performance, not the number of hours we spend at work. Productivity and effectiveness are the key measurements that outline the business case, however there are a series of personal factors at play also.
For starters, managers need to evaluate how they measure productivity now. Is it simply by employees’ presence? Just do a quick Facebook scan to know that even those who are in the office aren’t necessarily doing their jobs, but rather updating their statuses. At the end of the day, face time is not an indication that the tasks at hand are being accomplished. The work speaks for itself no matter the location it’s being completed. (1)
Telework may be a suitable alternative for you or your team but it is an individual decision. It does take additional effort, specific skills, new systems and strong communication, but remote work can add value. It is not for everyone and there are limits to numbers within an organisation that are able to work remotely, but it may be for you.
What are your experiences with remote management or telework? Do you plan to take on more teleworking employees in the future? Has teleworking and/or remote management been a benefit or hindrance in your organisation?
(1) Making Telecommuting a Success Year Round: Sara Sutton Fell