April 29, 2011

Telework Webinar Questions and Answers

Yesterday we conducted a webinar, sponsored by Citirx Online, on how to set up a remote work (telework) program. A recording is available here, and you can download slides here.

There were a few questions we didn’t have time to discuss during the session, so here they are along with answers:

Q. Where can I find data that supports the generational differences in terms of work flexibility and result oriented vs process oriented?

A. The University of Minnesota’s Research and Training Center on Community Living has an excellent 2008 paper titled Generational Differences in the workplace.

Q. What types of company reports or monitoring should be considered for gathering statistics on a remote work force?
and
Q. I understand the importance of managing employee performance based on outcomes, but does time enter into the equation at all? Is it important to ensure that full-time employees are working 40 hours?

A. If you believe in results-based management, as we do, the answer to your question is built into the process. Once you’ve defined the desired results you don’t need to monitor a remote work force, which is akin to counting butts in chairs, as I discussed yesterday. Either they achieve the results you’ve agreed upon or they don’t. If they do, what do you care where, when, or how they do it – what is there to monitor except results? When you hire someone are you paying for time or accomplishment?

In fact, the term “monitoring” in this context, or focusing on how many hours someone works, makes me twitch. One of the important attributes of a successful telework manager is a willingness to give remote employees the autonomy to get their job done  (actually, that goes for any good manager, in my book).

In fact, this whole issue is one of those places where there’s a gap, as Dan Pink put it, between what management science knows and what managers do that I talked about yesterday. There’s a classic article from Harvard Business Review, perhaps it’s their most popular of all time, that dates way back to 1968 titled One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? I stumbled across it in college and it had a huge impact on me and how I manage people. I just reread it and realized that in the context of 1968′s job enrichment, the author, Frederick Herzberg, wrote about removing controls while retaining accountability – and that’s the precisely the basis of today’s results-based management.

Q. What resources are available to get ideas and examples of remote work program pilot?

A. Excellent resources are available at Workshift Calgary, Kitsap County Washington’s teleworktoolkit.com, and the Telework Exchange. If anyone reading this knows of other particularly good sources, please leave a comment.

Q. What if you have a leadership team that want to launch a remote workforce but not willing to complete the due diligence and/or spend the money to do it right? How would you approach this one?

A. Look for another job? I’m only half kidding; at the very least it’s a project you don’t want to hitch your wagon to. That’s a scenario for failure. That said, I have a feeling there’s more to the situation behind this question than we know.

Still, I like a challenge, so I guess I’d approach it by selling them on the ROI. They stand save at least $10,000 per employee per year, so doing it right offers a good return on investment.

One of the obstacles that slowed up the federal telework program was that it was forecast to cost $50 million over ten years. Big deal! GAO estimated that one big snow day cost $100 million because people couldn’t get to work.

You might also sell them on COO. Continuity of operations was one of the primary reasons for remote work programs before people realized it had economic benefits too.

Notice in both cases I’m suggesting you sell values not facts, as I discussed in the webinar. People will actually cling to incorrect beliefs harder in the face of facts – the Obama ‘birthers’ are a good case in point. There’s an interesting article titled The Science of Why We Don’t believe Science that’s worth a read regardless of your views on global warming, creationism, evolution, Obama’s nationality, and so on.

Q. What are the main criteria that organizations use to determine if someone can work at home? Milage, Job Description, Etc.

A. Not to be a smartass, but willingness. All the benefits are slam dunks. Of course, if they have a customer-facing job willingness can’t be the only criteria. But radiologist work from home and read x-rays across the globe, in some McDonalds the voice that takes your order is someone’s who’s working from home. Actually, anyone that spends the day sitting in front of a computer screen is a prime candidate. Well, okay, maybe not air traffic controllers….

In the webinar I mentioned three top characteristics of people that will be success remote workers, and they certainly would be on my list of criteria: ability to execute, technologically self-sufficent, and good collaborators.

Q. If there is time, can you elaborate on the mandatory breaks and lunch. I work at home & rarely break.

A. I hear ya! One of the biggest problems for teleworkers is over working. The mandatory break thing, incidentally, is not part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Act doesn’t require breaks, but state laws in California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington do, last time I looked. There’s a summary here. You might be amused to know that sheepherders are exempt from the requirement in California. Maybe this is why?

Q. Can we share the slides with our own network/ audience?

You betcha! Get ‘em here. You can listen to a recording of the webinar while you watch the slides here.

Q. Can we pay an employee as an Independent Contractor (straight hourly)?

No, no, no, no, NO! I just wrote an article on this for American Express but it hasn’t been released yet, so I’ll just say for now that the IRS has very specific guidelines for who they consider an employee and who they consider a contractor. Get it wrong and it could cost you millions – they were after FedEx for $320 million.

This ain’t legal advice, but it boils down to this: if you have the right to control the methods and means of someone’s work they’re an employee, although even if you have control over the results produced, that doesn’t necessarily make them one. The point is, you can’t just classify someone as a contractor to avoid paying the taxes and benefits they deserve if you treat them as employees.

Q. What is the most important thing to keep in mind when training remote workers? Does all training need to be done remotely?

A. This is another one of those ares where there’s a gap between what science knows and what management does. It’s well known that different people learn differently, especially under different circumstances and for different skills, but…for expediency sake, I suppose…we shoe-horn everyone into the same classroom. And we also force people to learn synchronously – all together, at the same time – when asynchronous learning – where and when you can – is often a better choice for busy people.

Kate North at e-work.com, an industry-leading training provider, is my go to expert on remote work training. She offers this:

  • Make it relevant to the organization and the program.
  • Keep it highly interactive and easy to access.
  • Train the managers first to garner their support and buy-in. By building their skill-set and confidence they will start demonstrating best practices and the employees will follow suit.
  • Encourage each team to create their own protocols and norms once the training has been completed and they have been exposed to global best practices. These social agreements are the glue!

Q. Does all training need to be done remotely?

It turns out online learning is modestly better than face-to-face, and even better than blended learning (online and face-to-face) according to a meta study conducted by Columbia University of K-12, career technology, medical and higher education as well as corporate and military training. But the new technique of virtual classrooms offers an interesting approach that may be the best of all.

Kate North at e-work.com again,”Virtual class room training allows team members to get into a topic a bit further and start applying what they’ve learned. Face-to-face time can be used for building the social contracts and norms. It seems a bit silly to ask people to come back into the office to learn how to be virtual. In any event, the virtual training can be a great way to showcase new technologies and have some fun!”

Q. How do you reconcile individuals working at own pace, schedule with team work?

A. Give the team the authority to work that out. There’s no stronger motivator than peer pressure. Besides, if a team member isn’t producing the results you’ve agreed on, and that the team depends on, the team will fire them quicker than you can discover there’s a problem.

Q. For added security – should connectivity to corporate networks be with company issued equipment only?

Some people think that helps; and some federal government agencies do provide laptops, second phone lines, etc.. But most organizations, I think it’s fair to say, do not. The telework policy at the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight center, for example, states,

“It is the intent that teleworking in the federal government be effectively cost neutral and that, in the aggregate, it not incur additional costs. In order to mitigate costs associated with this program, purchase of equipment solely for the purpose of allowing an employee to telework should occur only after all other sources have been exhausted. Many employees own their own equipment and are willing to use it in performance of their official responsibilities due to the benefits they derive from telecommuting.”

A 2002 GSA study found that over half of government workers used their own equipment, BTW. I’m looking for something newer.

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In The News

Teleworkers keep government open during snowstorms, Baltimore Sun, March 14, 2014

It’s Unclearly Defined, but Telecommuting is Fast on the Rise, New York Times, March 7, 2014

Telework Yields $32 Million in Snow Day Savings, Forbes, February 27, 2014

Lone Eagle Cities: Where the Most People Work from Home, NextGov, March 3, 2014

Madison firms not about to ban telecommuting, Capital Times, February 25, 2014

How To Build and Sustain a Remote Workforce, Fast Company, February 21, 2014

Accountability, The Key to Federal Telework, Federal Times OpEd by Kate Lister, February 6, 2014

Florida Among the Top 10 States for Telecommuting Jobs, Jacksonville Business Journal, February 10, 2014

Federal Telework Surge Could Save $14 Billion Annually , Wired Workplace, January 25, 2014

Measuring the Impact of Workplace Flexibility, 1 Million for Flexibility, January 24, 2014

FEDTalk, Federal News Radio interviews Kate Lister on the Office of Personnel Management’s latest Status of Telework—Report to Congress, January 24, 2014

Report Says Telework Could Save Government $14 Billion a Year, Federal Computer Week, January 24, 2014

Federal Telework Surge Could Save $14 Billion Annually, NextGov, January 24, 2014

Telestorming: When weather and disasters forces people to work from home, Deseret News, January 10, 2014

Why Telework When You Can Take a Snow Day?, Nextgov.com, January 4, 2014

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