Here’s an interesting question I recently received: “Managers in my organization expect a certain response time, 1-2 minutes for emails sent to a teleworker. This can be very disruptive to concentrated work. What can you recommend around this?”
Are there times when such quick responses are necessary? Yes. I’ve worked with customer service representatives who are responsible for answering customer inquiries all day and IT help desk personnel that have to quickly resolve employee problems . For these types of roles, a quick response may be necessary (although 1-2 minutes still sounds a little quick, especially if any research to a customer issue is needed). Let’s assume that the person that submitted the above question is not working in such an environment.
Why then the need for such a quick response? It sounds like managers in this organization don’t trust teleworkers and are struggling to develop some measures to ensure teleworkers are actually working. As you may guess, I am against this metric unless there is a clear business need. So, how accessible should teleworkers be? It depends. Here are some things for managers to think about:
- Establish realistic expectations with teleworkers. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I mention this over and over again. At the beginning of the teleworking arrangement it is vital to establish clear expectations. This applies to hours of work to response time to queries. But, be realistic. Try to see things from the employee’s perspective. Allow employees to ask questions and provide input. The telework arrangement should be an agreement between both the employee and the manager.
- Accessibility should be based on business needs. Before setting arbitrary rules you should understand the job role and the business environment. Will the employee work with people out of their time zone or globally dispersed teams? If so, a “normal” 8-5 day may be a challenge. Does the employee perform work that requires a certain cycle time (i.e. analysis, research, development, etc.)? If so, is a 1-2 minute response realistic?
- Measure the output. What are the quantifiable deliverables for the job role? To use an old cliché, begin with the end in mind. Use metrics to measure performance that are based on the results, not just how often someone is behind their computer.
- Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to adjust course as necessary. You can always go back and re-set expectations if things aren’t working out or if you have discovered that you are using the metrics to drive performance. If the telework arrangement is new to you and your employees, you may intentionally set some dates in the near future to periodically review how things are going.
- Be fair. One of my counter-questions to the one above is: are all employees expected to have the same response time or just the teleworkers?
For teleworkers, if you find yourself in situations similar to the one above you can try the following tactics:
- Create a dialogue with your manager about expectations. If something sounds unrealistic or disruptive, try to show your manager why and offer an alternative.
- If you can’t reason with your manager, then try this quick fix: create a short generic reply to emails that you can copy and paste into a response. I suggest something like “I received your email and will have an answer to you by the end of the day.” Chances are, your boss is just checking up on you to make sure your behind your computer. This email response says, “yes, I’m here and I’m working.” It’s still disruptive but at least you don’t have to waste a lot of time on it.