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The days of sitting day in and day out in a single office location are increasingly behind us. Faster mobile technologies, a new generation of employees who demand a better work/life balance, and stiff competition to identify the best talent – regardless of where they live – means teleworking has become the norm across all business sizes and industries. A US federal government report found that almost half (47 percent) of its employees were eligible to work remotely – and working offsite was described as a “strategic organizational change program” for government agencies.
But the win-win arguments for both employer and employee in embracing remote working programs dimmed last month, when a federal patent examiner at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was exposed for racking up more than 18 weeks’ pay for work that was never conducted. His boss, a teleworker, did not notice until he was tipped off by an anonymous letter – and investigations later found that the employee would claim a full days’ work on his timesheet despite never setting foot in the office, or doing any work on his government-issued laptop. The employee’s supervisor told investigators that it was hard to identify whether there is a time and attendance issue, since many patent examiners have flexible work schedules.
While this is an extreme case of time and attendance abuse, how can businesses be assured that staff are truly working without micromanaging them? And how do you support more workplace flexibility while driving productivity and efficiency gains at all levels? Here are ten tips to help make teleworking a success.
1. Set up the policy upfront.
Think about the parameters for teleworking. The policy should set the right tone in outlining the privileges it provides to employees to perform their work duties outside the traditional office walls, including information on eligibility, schedule and compensation. You may also want to address other areas including overtime, attendance at meetings, travel expenses and workers’ compensation.
2. Communicate the policy to employees and gain supervisor buy in.
Once the policy has been finalized, share it with your team and make sure that all employees understand the details and sign off on the policy. Make sure that the policy is somewhere easily accessible (e.g. the company intranet) and that managers and HR can answer any additional questions.
3. Scrutinize the roles in your business.
Not all job functions are optimal for telework. Certainly the office receptionist cannot work remotely, and people that need to have regular contact with other employees (such as HR) will also fall into that category. Conduct an analysis to understand what jobs can benefit from more flexible working arrangements and match this against your teleworking policy.
4. Engage your IT department.
Teleworking should support more efficiency and productivity, but that won’t happen if the technology isn’t up and running. Make sure the IT team is engaged to set up remote access for employees, including secure virtual private networks (VPNs) and other applications to get the job done.
5. Establish clear performance indicators.
It’s not about where you work, but about getting the work done. While in person interactions are still critical to doing business – and there may be lingering questions on how productive a teammate is who is often out of the office – placing importance on results will help alleviate concerns. Replicon’s Time & Attendance offering simplifies how time is captured across the workforce, while Replicon’s Project Costing solution delivers insights into how time is spent across projects, which can be compared against deadlines and deliverables.
6. Start with a small pilot team and scale based on the results achieved.
If you have a relatively new team or business, keeping operations tight as you scale up may mean that teleworking is minimized at the onset. Figure out the best way to roll out remote working across teams and as your business develops, look at how this can be expanded.
7. Remember to include teleworkers.
According to Ipsos Research, 62 percent of global teleworkers feel socially isolated when they don’t see their colleagues face to face every day. Whether you’re more or less remote than your colleagues, make sure that there are regular touch points to communicate with teams beyond email – such as weekly phone calls and virtual meetings.
8. Incorporate feedback mechanisms.
The federal patent examiner at the USPTO was identified as a poor performer, but was able to fly under the radar for months until an anonymous letter appeared from a disgruntled co-worker. In addition to ensuring employees have clear performance metrics, provide open opportunities for teammates to give each other 360 degree feedback and support.
9. Provide training specific to teleworking.
While remote working is widely adopted in some businesses, employees who are “out of sight” can give others the impression that they are less productive and focused compared to office bound employees. Make sure that everyone is trained to understand the essentials of teleworking, what makes a successful teleworker, team success factors and how to maximize technologies.
10. Review your teleworking policy and make changes as needed.
Program evaluation tools should be adopted from the onset to support and evaluate teleworking in any business. The USPTO examination was limited to 2014 because only a year’s worth of workplace information was available on its servers. By using Replicon’s cloud-based solutions, businesses benefit from accessing time, resource and project-related data and viewing these into configurable reports that can be compared over many years. This can help adjust teleworking policies as these evolve.
We’re always interested in hearing how companies can continue to better optimize time across all departments and levels. Teleworking is here to stay – and its success is based on setting the right framework to support your business.