Making Telework Work: I’ll Take My Telework Program STIRred, Not Shaken
February 7, 2018 in Flexibility
By Ashley Agerter Raitor
Technology is changing the way we work. Not only are the types of available jobs dramatically different than they were a generation ago, technological advances are making it increasingly easier for employees to perform these jobs outside the office. Global Workplace Analytics reports that 50% of the US workforce holds a job compatible with at least partial teleworking. And, it’s not just more feasible to telework these days – employees are really enjoying this newfound flexibility and actively seeking out companies that offer flexible work arrangements. In fact, a recent study showed that an estimated 80-90% of the US workforce is interested in teleworking at least part-time (Global Workplace Analytics). This should be good news for employers because telework has tangible benefits for organizations, including the potential for increased productivity, reduced overhead, and improved employee retention.
However, not all of the news about telework is quite so positive. Some evidence suggests that the trend toward expanding telework programs might be losing a little steam, with employers citing concerns about the potential for negative effects on things like collaboration, employee engagement and innovation. Therefore, after years of promoting telework flexibilities, several notable private sector companies have started pulling back. For example, in order to promote collaboration, speed, and agility amidst struggling organizational performance, IBM abruptly eliminated remote employment (i.e., the ability to work remotely full-time) for multiple divisions in 2017, requiring remote employees to move to a location with a physical office. Also citing the need to promote collaboration and address struggling performance, Yahoo eliminated remote employment in 2013 and began encouraging all staff to work from the office whenever possible. Similarly, Aetna started gradually cutting back on telework in 2017 by requiring managers within a 50 mile radius to work from the office.
So what does all of this mean? Should companies start restricting telework or even consider eliminating flexible work arrangements all together? The short answer is no. Despite the fact that some companies are starting to pull back on telework, that doesn’t necessarily mean yours should, too. Flexible work arrangements are still extremely effective for many organizations. A successful program can impact bottom-line metrics (e.g., increased productivity and reduced overhead), while also improving job satisfaction for existing employees and making your company more attractive to talented job seekers.
This brings us to the million dollar question – How do you make telework work for your organization? The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests that organizations should Strategize, Transform, Implement, and Recalibrate. In other words, to make telework work for your organization, you need to STIR things up a little bit!
This step is about making a business case for telework. Leaders need to ask themselves: Why are we considering this in the first place? What tangible benefits does this have for our organization, and how does this align with our overarching strategy? Ultimately, the outcome of this step is a comprehensive telework strategy that:
- Demonstrates how telework reflects your organizational mission and values;
- Clearly articulates how the program fits into and supports specific strategic goals and targets (e.g., diversifying recruitment strategies, improving job satisfaction and retention, reducing overhead, etc.); and,
- Identifies potential challenges and associated risk mitigation strategies, particularly around cultural components like collaboration, engagement, and innovation.
According to Jason Morwick, co-author of, Making Telework Work: Leading People and Leveraging Technology for High-Impact Results, “… the biggest hurdles are not usually around technology, but around leadership, change management and dealing with an organizational culture.” Therefore, it is critical for organizations to employ practical strategies that will help create and sustain a culture that supports and promotes productive telework. These strategies include:
- Assessing organizational readiness (e.g., structure, technology, processes, and culture);
- Working closely with employees at all levels of the organization to understand their perspectives, expectations, and potential concerns; and,
- Openly communicating goals and expectations of the program as well as being transparent about potential challenges and mitigation strategies.
If you already have a telework program in place, don’t worry. It’s not too late to employ some of these transformational techniques. In fact, you can use this as an opportunity to take a “deeper dive” into your existing policies and processes. For example, consider interviewing a handful of employees and managers to better understand existing strengths and challenges; hold focus groups to brainstorm improvement strategies; or, distribute a brief check-in survey to get a pulse on how your workforce perceives the program. You can also benchmark best-in-class telework programs to identify tips and tricks that could enhance your telework strategy. From the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to Microsoft and Amazon, there are many examples of highly successful telework programs across the public, private and non-profit sectors.
Now that we’ve strategized and transformed, it’s time to implement. And we’re not just talking about implementing telework-friendly technology, like document sharing platforms, webcams, instant messaging services, and virtual reality simulators. (By the way, if you think virtual reality is reserved for hip Silicon Valley startups and tech giants like Apple and Google, think again. GSA’s Emerging Citizen Technology program recently launched the Federal Virtual/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) program to serve as a collaborative hub for the research and refinement of VR and AR pilot programs across government. Check it out here).
While providing employees with appropriate equipment that enables them to perform their jobs effectively is certainly important, training staff on how to be successful in a teleworking environment is equally as critical. Successful organizations provide robust training resources (e.g., tip sheets, toolkits, and dedicated telework training courses) to empower both managers and employees for effective telework. Employees need to understand how to be successful in a telework environment, and managers need to understand how to measure, track and communicate what success looks like.
Once you’ve successfully implemented your telework program, your work doesn’t stop there. Every workplace program should be consistently monitored and measured to ensure it’s meeting its intended goals, and telework programs are no exception. Organizations should identify a set of key performance metrics aligned to their overarching strategy (e.g., retention rates, employee engagement survey results, overhead costs, etc.) and monitor these metrics on an ongoing basis. Insight into this information will allow you to determine whether your telework program is working as intended or whether it might be time to STIR things up again.
From developing telework policies and creating robust training programs to providing change management support and building innovative metrics dashboards, FMP has significant experience assisting dozens of organizations with developing, institutionalizing, evaluating and enhancing their telework programs. While we rely on proven methodologies to assess and enhance our clients’ workplace programs, we never approach our engagements from a ‘one size fits all’ perspective. Instead, we work closely with stakeholders at all levels of the organization, focus our efforts to create buy-in, and set the stage for success. If you’re interested in learning more about FMP’s capabilities and services in this area, please contact BD@fmpconsulting.com or reach out to our author, Ashley Agerter Raitor (firstname.lastname@example.org).
About the Author: With more than 12 years of experience providing analytical and consulting services for public and private sector organizations, Ashley has seen her fair share of telework programs. But, she’s not just a consultant, she’s also a case study! Ashley recently relocated to sunny San Diego with her husband and precocious 2-year-old son. When she’s not traveling back to FMP and employing tips and tricks of being a successful remote employee (which you can learn more about in FMP-er Jenna Neyman’s blog, Remote Work Best Practices, next week), she enjoys hiking and spending time at the beach with her family as well as going to “grown-up” restaurants when she and her husband are lucky enough to find a sitter. For the record, she prefers her martini shaken, not stirred.
Lister, K. (2017, June). Latest Telecommuting Statistics. Global Workplace Analytics. Retrieved from http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics
Offstein, E. & Morwick, J. (2009). Making Telework Work: Leading People and Leveraging Technology for High-Impact Results. Boston, MA: Davies-Black
Rodensky, R., Rybeck, J., Johnson, H. & Rollins, M. (2010, January 25). Secrets to a Robust Telework Program: The STIR Model. Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved from: https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/TeleworkModel.aspx
Tkaczyk, C. (2013, April 19). Marissa Mayer Breaks Her Silence on Yahoo’s Telecommuting Policy. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2013/04/19/marissa-mayer-breaks-her-silence-on-yahoos-telecommuting-policy/
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