Tech Briefing

By John Zyskowski

Blog archive

Can we avoid telework train wrecks?

Finally, thanks in no small part to the recent Telework Enhancement Act, it looks like a lot more government offices will be giving telework a try. Previously resistant managers are coming on board (for the moment, anyway), identifying positions for telework eligibility, dealing with equipment needs, and developing agreements about employee performance and expectations.

Of course, most telework programs start with the best of intentions, but not all march on to meet great success. Employees who abuse the telework privilege with lackluster performance hurt productivity and can poison office morale. They can also jeopardize management support for the telework program. Sometimes managers have to work with poorly conceived telework policies, so they lack tools that could help them bring wayward employees in line.

So, tell us, what are some of the mistakes that employees or their managers can make with telework? And what can they do to avoid falling into the same traps?

Readers who have commented on past FCW stories about telework have mentioned some of the problems that can arise.

One mistake mentioned is the teleworker who isn’t responsive to communications from managers and co-workers. “I have been constantly frustrated and so have others in my division when you try to contact (phone/email) a teleworker for immediate answers/assistance and they do not respond quickly,” wrote one reader.

And what can managers do for their part to make telework a success? One reader said managers should give telework a chance but should also be ready to rein it in if it’s not working. “A manager must immediately send a clear signal and not give so much as 1/64th of an inch but yank the privilege upon the slightest infraction. When employees know that they will not be allowed to take advantage of a given situation, they quickly fall in line.”

But some managers don’t have this kind of power. They talk about being hamstrung by policies that don’t allow them to revoke telework privileges, even when some employees are clearly abusing them. “As a manager I should have the authority to approve or deny telework should there be an upcoming holiday,” writes one reader. “Employees go through the calendar and always telework prior to and following a holiday — [that] should not be allowed.”

So what do you think? What are the problems that can undermine telework programs, and how can they be avoided? What kinds of policies do managers need to make telework successful? Please share your comments below.

Posted by John Zyskowski on Mar 11, 2011 at 12:20 PM


Reader comments

Tue, Mar 15, 2011 No name today, sorry.

My workplace is an excellent example of a telework train wreck. My unit has been teleworking for 11 years and I have been teleworking for 5 years. Two weeks ago, telework was suspended indefinitely due to lack of work (we've been going through a quiet spell, plus we are currently overstaffed as we wait for a few senior employees to retire in the next few years). The senior manager didn't feel it was appropriate to telework with a light workload. I firmly believe that with stronger management from my supervisor, we wouldn't have lost telework. Certain people were abusing the system and heading for their day at home with zero work in their inbox, while the rest of us made sure we had sufficient work or else came into the office for the day - we didn't want to lose the privilege, so we were determined to be honest about it. Had our supervisor instigated a random spot-check system to ensure that we were actually working while we were at home, she would have had feedback to provide to the senior manager about our workloads, and she would have been able to revoke telework from those who were abusing it. She's always stated that she doesn't want to do spot-checks because she trusts us, but I would much prefer concrete evidence that I'm working at home over her trust. We successfully defended telework to a senior manager who tried to take it away 3 years ago, and at the time we all expressed our willingness to have random checks done on our work, but our supervisor was unwilling to do so. In the end, I think this is what finally buried telework for us.

Mon, Mar 14, 2011 Christina Morrison

One way to avoid these non-responses from teleworkers, or at least to stop them at the first signs of trouble, is to make sure that you have invested in proper technology – both for the teleworker and manager back in the office. If done right, this will improve the communication barrier and eliminate any excuses of not being connected and ready to work.

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