Tips to Take Advantage of the Teleworking Trend

Companies that don’t include “workshifting” on their 2012 to-do list may already be falling behind. For today’s distributed and mobile workforce, teleworking — or workshifting — delivers clear competitive advantages: improved recruitment, retention, motivation, productivity and related cost savings, to name just a few.

In celebration of National Telework Week, organizations across the country are encouraged to pledge to telework. The initiative, hosted by the Telework Exchange, puts the spotlight on the benefits of flexible work environments for employers and employees.

While studies have outlined the benefits and data points of the growing trend toward flexible work, the responsibility still lies with each organization to provide the right environment for such an effort to be successful.

Making Workshifting A Reality
Flexible work has delivered a strong competitive advantage, according to Jon Stroz, vice president of marketing at Accella, a Web and mobile design and development company that is 100 percent virtual.

“In five years, we’ve never lost an employee — I think that’s a testament to the culture, but also our commitment to flexible work,” Stroz said. “From a business owner’s perspective, allowing employees to work from anywhere allows us to compete with larger, more established companies in recruiting the best talent.” Accella has also reduced the need to fly to client sites, using Citrix online collaboration tools to hold effective virtual meetings, he said.

San Francisco nonprofit The Trust for Public Land began flexible work practices decades ago to stay competitive with the city’s dot-com growth and hiring boom. Its HR team works completely virtually from three different cities. Its success can be attributed to managers’ ability to drive the guidelines for remote work with their teams with support from HR, said Carrie Speckart, associate director of HR at The Trust for Public Land.

“Having clarity on goals and priorities is absolutely essential for the remote worker,” Speckart said. “If you don’t have that established, it’s hard to achieve your goals and work productively in a remote environment. And if it’s an environment with a lot of change and uncertainty, it’s challenging to have a successful remote work process. You really need strong managers who can communicate, motivate their teams and ensure everyone is focused on the right goals.”

With that in mind, here are some guidelines to help talent managers get started.

Develop formal guidelines. Consider which roles within the organization are best suited to virtual working and develop criteria for eligibility, such as how performance results can be measured remotely, whether responsibilities depend on daily face-to-face interactions with peers, clients or managers or whether employees are skilled at collaborating with co-workers and management using different technologies.

Communicate how the program works. Be open within the organization about the program, how it works, who is eligible and why, and why certain roles may not be eligible (access to confidential files, equipment or customers). Ensure that all employees recognize that workshifting is a privilege and not a right.

Agree on a schedule. Discuss what type of virtual schedule works best for the employee, department and company. Agree on a schedule and establish a daily routine with remote workers to encourage engagement and collaboration.

Set up the right workspace. Ensure employees are equipped with the necessary technologies they need to work from home or elsewhere and that they know how to use them. Also, make certain they can establish a remote work environment that is free from distractions.

Train managers to become better leaders. Allowing flexible work means fewer opportunities to walk around the office and check in with employees. Setting clear, outcome-based goals, defining what needs to be done by whom and providing performance feedback becomes more critical to one’s ability to manage people successfully. Training managers is as central a part of a workshifting program as training individual employees.

Accessibility is everything. In addition to setting clear expectations in writing with remote workers, managers also need to make sure they are more accessible than ever. Designate virtual office hours for consistent communication.

Rolling out a flexible work process is not overly difficult for business, but it does take commitment throughout the organization. Communicating the details of the program and how it will work for all employees is the key to success. With a sound strategy, the proper collaboration tools and leadership commitment in place, businesses can deliver the flexibility and efficiency that employees desire and many have come to expect.

Amy Meyer is vice president of human resources, divisions, at Citrix, a company aimed at transforming how businesses and IT work and people collaborate in the cloud era. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.