Teleworker or Telecommuter? Terms for Today’s Workforce

April 29, 2014

video conference

There are many terms used to describe workers nowadays. ‘Telecommuters’ made their way into the virtual office as early as the mid-1970s. ‘Teleworkers’ followed just over a decade later. Now we have ‘remote’ employees and ‘distributed’ teams. Is there a difference? (Admittedly, I tend to use some of these terms interchangeably.) More importantly, does it really matter? For some organizations, especially large organizations, it can be important to define how employees work if there are different requirements, policies, provisions, or benefits for these different types of work arrangements. From research and speaking with a number of organizations, here are the most commonly used terms and their definitions:

Flextime/Flexwork: Working a full or part-time schedule, but adjusting start and end times to accommodate personal needs or commitments which allow employees more choices in managing their work schedule.

Telework: Working a full or part-time schedule from a location other than an employer’s designated workplace. Telework includes working from a home site office, co-working/telework center, or anywhere else that is outside a traditional corporate or government office.

Telecommute: Often used synonymously with the word ‘telework.’ Historically, telecommuting was defined as using technology to work anywhere that reduces commuting time. In many organizations, telecommuting refers to part-time work-from-home while telework is fulltime work-from-home status.

Remote Working: Working in a location where the employee will have no physical interaction with customers/clients or other employees. Usually refers to arrangements where employees have no access to an employer’s workplace.

Workplace Flexibility: Defining how, when and where work gets done that is mutually synergistic for both employers and employees. It is a commitment from employers to build a more flexible organization culture to meet employee needs for work-life integration (in a more seamless way).

Mobility: The ability of employees, with appropriate tools, technology and flexible workplace policies, to perform work either inside or outside an organization in a way that accommodates multiple modes of working. In some organizations, “mobile” workers are those that have access to the employer’s office locations but travel frequently are expected to work regardless of location.

Distributed Work Teams (a.ka. Virtual Teams): Teams in which at least one team member is not geographically located with the rest of the team. Teams may work together permanently or on a temporary basis and may cut across organizational/functional groups.

Organizations may tailor or define terminology to meet their needs; however, it is always a good practice to ensure work arrangements are clearly defined to all employees.

Good luck,

Jason

**The list above was taken from the book Workshift.


How to Land a Job Working From Home (or Telecommuting)

April 2, 2014

work-from-home-jobs

I often get asked how a job seeker can find a job working from home or at least telecommuting part-time. The truth is, there is no magic formula. Job seekers should be leery of advertisements on the internet offering you 100% flexibility and the ability to work from home fulltime. Most of those ads are scams and will not lead you anywhere. So how do you do it? Here are my tips:

  1. Understand your own needs and objectives. What is it you really want? I have friends that say they want to work from home but they really just want better work-life balance or more flexibility. Do you want a more flexible work schedule to balance family commitments? Do you live in the exoburbs and want to reduce your commute? Do you just hate the office environment and feel more productive working from home? Would you be willing to commute to the office part-time? If so, how many days a week is acceptable? What about business travel? Asking yourself these question can help you better understand what you are really looking for and what you would be willing to accept.
  2. Search jobs that interest you or that you are well suited for. There’s an old adage about never taking a job solely based on the salary offered. The same goes for flexible work options. If the only reason you are accepting a job is because the employer lets you work from home, you may be disappointed in the long run. If you don’t like the job, working remotely is not going to make it any better. In your initial job search, forget about the working arrangements and look for something that you really want to do.
  3. Don’t get discouraged if the job doesn’t list WFH or telecommuting as options. Many employers don’t advertise their flexible work arrangements. You may not find out about their specific policies until you are well into the interview process. Alternatively, companies may be flexible on their location requirements if they find the right candidate. Once you find an attractive job opening (see #2 above) do a little research on the company to see if the company has flexible work options. It’s even better if you can network with people that work or have worked at the company and find out directly what’s offered internally.
  4. Don’t ask about work arrangements in the initial interview. The first interview with a company is like a first date. Both parties are really looking for compatibility but not necessarily diving into specifics. I used to know several recruiters that would always tell me, “The first person that brings up money, loses.” They basically meant that you didn’t want to ask how much money you were going to make during the first interview because you could scare off the employer. The same can be said for all benefits, including telework. Let the employer get to know and want you before you get into specifics around working arrangements. However, if the employer brings it up during the initial interview then it’s usually fair game to talk about it.
  5. Be able to demonstrate how you have effectively worked remotely in the past. Although many employers are still old school in their management practices and are just starting to implement telework or flexible work options, other innovative companies do this naturally as part of everyday business. In some cases, employers are specifically looking for individuals to work from satellite offices or work from home at least part time to conserve on office space. These employers will look for you to provide examples of how well you worked in a virtual environment in the past. If you’ve never worked remotely, you can use your experiences from participating in a virtual team or at least be able to explain how you’ve been able to be effective without needing to sit in front of your manager or peers.

There are some trustworthy websites and online resources for virtual job seekers. Check out the websites below in addition to the popular sites like Monster, CareerBuilder, or Indeed:

www.ratracerebellion.com

www.flexjobs.com

www.homeworkers.org

 

Happy job hunting,

Jason

 


Improving Collaboration in Virtual Teams

September 24, 2013

virtual collaboration

There are many opinions and perceptions about collaborating remotely or within a virtual team.  Many assume that collaboration decreases as the geographic distance between team members increases.  But is there any truth to this?  Do virtual teams have it harder than teams that are co-located?  The answer is yes.  Research has shown that virtual teams face more challenges than their face-to-face counterparts.

First, virtual teams communicate less effectively than face-to-face teams, even as they communicate more frequently.  As you may know, a greater volume of communication does not necessarily lead to better communication.  On the contrary, having more messages than your inbox can handle and being inundated with information can actually lead to more confusion, not less.

Second, conversations in virtual teams have been shown to be more task focused, to the exclusion of social interaction.  Although this effect lessens over time, intuitively it makes sense.  It takes a while to build and grow virtual relationships.  However, an extreme task focus may lead to less effective communication and weaken relational links between team members.   A lack of social communication is also associated with lower trust and cohesion in the team, along with difficulties in establishing a shared knowledge base.  Obviously, this can negatively impact team performance.

Fortunately for virtual team leaders, research also provides strategies on how to overcome these challenges.  These strategies fall into 2 major categories:

Increasing social identity within the team 

To increase engagement within remote or virtual teams we need to first think about social identity.  Social identity theory basically says that we all find ways to identify with various groups and the more we identify with a group, the more likely behave in a manner in line with the interests of the group, putting our own needs and desires aside.   Greater identification with a group can leads to greater trust and cohesion, better communication and cooperation, and ultimately better performance.

So how do we do that?

You may already be familiar with the stages of team development – forming, storming, norming, and performing.  Think about that first stage: forming.  How do you select people to become part of the team?  In some organizations I have worked with, leaders consciously select team members based on their experience and past performance working within a virtual team.  Having team members that are comfortable and adept at working virtually from the beginning can help the forming stage go smoothly.

Additionally, it may be helpful during the early stages of team formation for team members to meet face-to-face meetings before engaging virtually.  This can help foster higher trust, improved socialization, and closer interpersonal relationships.  (Of course this depends on logistics and budget).

Lastly, don’t forget to make time for social interaction.  To some, this may be seen as a waste of time.  Remember, if communication within the team becomes too task focused, it can eventually erode team performance.  Use ice breakers when the team first meets to start building relationships or reserve a little time during recurring team meetings to socialize and ensure people are comfortable around each other.

Leveraging the right technology

Technology also plays a big part in how virtual teams collaborate.  Communicating solely over email and conference calls can make collaboration difficult.  Thankfully, the tools and technology available are getting better and better.

High quality, affordable videoconferencing is accessible to all of us and can make a big difference in virtual teams.  In a study that compared how users collaborate virtually with or without video, users unsurprisingly wanted video.  Users believed that video added value to their interactions and made their interactions more satisfying.  If you are not already using video within your teams, you should start.

Also, there are a number of tools on the market that enable teams to collaborate, from meeting applications to document storage and content management to social networks.  All of these applications can enrich the team experience and allow for better communication and collaboration.  Too often I find teams not exploring or experimenting with new tools but complaining about how difficult it is to work on a virtual team.  Virtual team leaders can take advantage of what is available today.

In summary, virtual teams may have struggled in the past but it doesn’t have to be that way.  You may find with a little effort that the experience can be just as good, and in some cases better, than if you and your teammates were face to face.

Good luck,

Jason

 


Home Office Safety

September 3, 2013

safety first

(Note: Special thanks this month goes to my friend Chuck Wilsker, President of the Telework Coalition.  Chuck provided the good info below about home office safety.  You can learn more about the TelCoa at www.telcoa.org

Last month I wrote about how you could use the 5S methodology to organize your home office.  It’s a good idea to add an extra “S” and think about safety.  Home office safety is often overlooked but is important for obvious reasons.  Many of the employers I’ve spoken with leave it up to their teleworkers to ensure home offices are safe places to work.  Only a few offer advice, tips, or checklists to ensure employees can work in a productive and safe environment while working from home.

As you set up or review you home office, think about the items below.  To help you remember this, think of the acronym SELF to keep yourSELF safe (get it?  Oh, whatever…).

Security – Ensuring your home office is secure is important because theft of financial or confidential business information can be devastating to your business.  Replacing lost equipment is expensive and time consuming; and invasion of personal safety can leave physical and psychological scars.  Consider the following tips:

  • Don’t meet clients or vendors, or conduct  meetings with co-workers, in your home
  • Ensure you inventory any expensive home office equipment (it’s a good idea to make a video inventory) and make sure its insured if it belongs to you and not your employer
  • Buy a shredder or see if your employer will provide one
  • If possible, don’t store hard copies of sensitive documents in your home office
  • Don’t leave portable data storage devices in plain sight
  • Leverage cloud technologies for data storage versus leaving it on your hard drive
  • If you have to store confidential or sensitive documents in your home office, make sure you have a desk drawer or file cabinet that can be locked

Electrical Hazards – According to the U.S. Fire Administration, electrical wiring/equipment is the leading cause of home office fires.  Think about the following:

  • Consider having a qualified electrician inspect your home office, especially if you have added a substantial new electrical load to your home or you have an older home
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets – avoid using power strips plugged into other power strips or creating an outlet “octopus” by plugging in too many adapters into a single outlet
  • Use correct size and current rating for breakers and fuses
  • Do not unplug an appliance by pulling on the cord as you can damage the outlet and the cord
  • Be sure plugs fit securely into outlets – if a
    plug is loose, either the cord or the outlet needs to be replaced
  • Don’t run cords under rugs, carpets, or furniture
  • Never staple cords or hang them over nails or sharp objects
  • Never coil or band cords tightly – coiling or banding cords can damage the cord, as well as cause overheating
  • Be careful of appliances you may use in your home office, i.e. space heaters or coffee makers
Looks like I'm growing an electrical octopus in my home office.

Looks like I’m growing an electrical octopus in my home office.

Lighting –  Poorly designed lighting in the home office is also a hazard.  Lighting problems can result from too much light, which can cause glare, or from insufficient light.  According to the Center for Disease Control, poor lighting in the workplace is associated with an increase in accidents.  As people age, they require more light to see properly. For example, someone in their 50’s will require about three times more light for reading than someone in their 20’s.  A couple of tips:

  • Make sure you have enough lighting to clearly see stairs or areas around your home office to avoid tripping or falling
  • If you experience headaches or eyestrain, check your lighting
  • Position your monitor so no glare reflects from windows or other light sources (glare can lead to eye strain)
  • Adjust your lighting if you experience neck or back pain resulting from straining to see small or detailed items

Fall and Trip Hazards – Probably the most common injuries in the home office result from trips or falls.  (Did you know that each year approximately 2,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains after tripping over extension cords?)  To prevent a fall, beware of:

  • Clutter on the floor
  • Loose cords under your desk or across the floor
  • Unstable office furniture
  • Lack of a handrail on stairs
  • Items placed on stairs
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Open drawers, which can cause you to trip
  • Unbalanced filing cabinets that can tip over on you
  • Substituting a chair for a stepstool
My makeshift dog barrier and left over trash may lead to my demise...

My makeshift dog barrier and left over trash may lead to my demise…

This is not intended to be an al encompassing list, but should help you as you look over your home office.  Do you have a tip or even a home office horror story?  Drop me a line and let me know.

Work safe,

Jason


Use 5S to Keep Your Home Office Efficient and Effective

July 9, 2013

messy office

Last week I wrote about lean methodology which was originally developed by Japanese engineers at Toyota.  When lean methodology started to become known among Western companies in the 1990s, an associated concept called 5S, already used by Toyota and many other Japanese companies, also became popular.  The 5 S’s stand for the Japanese words that start with the letter ‘s’ when translated into English: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.  5S is used by many manufacturing organizations to help keep the workplace organized.  You can use it too to help keep your home office efficient and effective.  And don’t worry, you don’t need to remember the Japanese terns.  Over time, Western managers have found similar ‘s’ words to take their place.

Sort: This is the type of sorting you do during spring cleaning.  Eliminate all unnecessary items in your home office.  Keep only what’s essential to doing your job on a daily basis.  If you don’t use it regularly, consider storing it someplace.  I moved my home office to a smaller room in my house and it forced me to take a hard look at all the stuff I had accumulated – a docking station for my laptop that I never used, old headsets, spare storage drives, etc.  Most of it was just taking up space.

Straighten: Arrange your home office equipment so it minimizes wasted movement (remember the category of waste from last week’s post called Motion).  For example, I initially had my modem and router located in another room.  Since I was having consistent problems with my local service provider and was manually rebooting the devices regularly, it made more sense to have it within arm’s reach.

Shine:  Keep it clean and organized.  At the end of a shift, it’s normal for workers to clean the shop floor and ensure all equipment and tools are put in their place.  You should do the same.  At the end of the workday, spend a few minutes to clean up your home office and prepare for the next day.  It will keep you focused and help organize your thoughts, not just your office.

Standardize.  This step usually refers to maintaining uniform policies and procedures.  In regards to working from home, think about your routine.  Getting into a routine will keep you focused and productive.  It will also help fight some of the distractions that creep up from the household.

Sustain.  Ensure you are following through on the previous steps.  If necessary, schedule time every now and then to review your home office, do the necessary cleaning, or review your work habits.

Over time, engineers and managers have expended on the 5S concept and created 6, 7, and even 8S.  The additional step that I think is most relevant to those that work from home is Safety.  Many organizations provide a home office safety checklist to help employees, but others leave it to their teleworkers to figure it out on their own.  Don’t overlook this step.  Ensure that your home office is not only clean and organized, but safe as well.

Good luck,

Jason


Using Telework to Lean Out the Enterprise

July 2, 2013

lean

A few decades ago, Toyota Production System gained attention for its manufacturing processes.  The methodology and collection of tools used by Toyota engineers was later coined “lean” and popularized in the book The Machine That Changed the World.  (Coincidentally, lean started to become popular during the era when the process improvement methodology Six Sigma was taking off, and today the methodologies are combined, termed Lean Six Sigma, in many organizations).

One of the central themes of lean is to reduce waste.  Waste leads to higher internal costs, lowers profits, and/or decreases customer satisfaction.  Waste can be classified into 7 categories:

  1. Transportation.  Unnecessary movement of goods, people, materials, or documents.
  2. Inventory.  Excess inventories don’t generate revenue (because the goods aren’t sold) and lead to higher costs (to hold and maintain them).  This led to the concept of “Just-in-Time” – no inventories, providing a product or service exactly when the customer requests it.
  3. Motion.  Excess motion or unnecessary movement in the production process.
  4. Waiting for the next process step.  Wait time can make up 90% of the overall process cycle time.
  5. Over-processing.  Doing more work on a product or transaction than is absolutely necessary.
  6. Over-production: Producing more than what is necessary.
  7. Defects.  Rework that is done to fix something that should have been done correctly the first time.

What does waste have to do with telework?  A lot.  In many organizations, telework is still seen as an employee privileged or perk.  As I have argued in the past, organizations need to think more strategically about how to leverage telework to achieve competitive advantage.   Telework has the potential to reduce waste and lean out the enterprise.

For example, telework can greatly reduce transportation for employees.  Internal travel can be reduced by leveraging video conferencing or desktop sharing applications.  Traveling to client or customer locations can be reduced by hiring talent near these locations versus hiring at corporate headquarters or company hubs and sending employees to the customer.

Excess motion can also be reduced.  In the manufacturing world, a “spaghetti diagram” can be created that traces the paths employees take around the plant to do their job.  The same concept applies to the typical office building.  How much do employees move around to meet with people or use office equipment?  Reducing office space, perhaps moving to an open floor plan or hoteling environment, can allow employees to work more closely with others they may need on temporary basis  or allowing employees to work from home can eliminate most motion altogether and make employees more productive.

If you think about it, you may come up with additional ideas of how telework makes the organization more efficient, reduces costs, reduces waste, and increases customer satisfaction.   This can help you build the business case for telework if you are just starting out, or it can help maximize the potential of the virtual workplace if telework already exists in your organization.

Good luck,

Jason


Building the Telework Business Case: Productivity

June 4, 2013

3d blue Diagram with arrow

 

I always get asked about the impact of telework on employee productivity.  Over the years there have been a number of case studies and research in the public and private sector that show how positive results due to teleworking.  Here are just a few:

  • A March 2008 study between the Telework Exchange and the National Science Foundation (NSF) found that 87% of NSF managers felt that productivity increased or at least remained the same for their teleworkers.
  • Results from a study of Cisco employees released in 2009 revealed that the company saved an estimated $277 million in productivity by letting employees telework.  69% of surveyed employees cited higher productivity while teleworking.
  • 79% of teleworkers in a pilot program for the General Services Administration claimed that their productivity increased while teleworking.
  • A study by Brigham Young University found that telecommuters could work 19 more hours than office-bound workers before feeling that work was interfering with their personal life.
  • A 2008 study by CompTIA of 212 IT professionals, 67% said increased productivity was their primary benefit from telecommuting. Survey respondents said that productivity improvements primarily resulted from the ability to work during the time employees would otherwise be commuting to the office.
  • According to Innovisions Canada, surveys and pilots conducted by IBM Canada (where about 20% of its workforce teleworks) indicate that teleworkers can be as much as 50% more productive than when they work in a traditional office setting.
  • AT&T workers work 5 more hours at home on average than their office workers and JDEdwards teleworkers are 20-25% more productive than their office counterparts (According to a Chicago Sun Times article in October 1999).
  •   American Express teleworkers produced 43% more than their office based counterparts and Compaq teleworkers increased productivity by 15% – 45% (from the Colorado Telework Coalition).
  • British Telecom, which has 80,000 employees, found productivity rose 31% among its 9,000 teleworkers (according the Telework Coalition – www.telcoa.org)
  • Maryland Department of Transportation employees who telework (approximately 100) reported a 27% increase in productivity (according the Telework Coalition – www.telcoa.org)
  • Dow Chemical claims productivity increases of 32.5%: 10% through decreased absenteeism, 16% by working at home and 6.5% by avoiding the commute (according the Telework Coalition – www.telcoa.org).
  • A Telework Exchange study (“Face-to-Face with Management Reality”) revealed that 66% of managers who manage teleworkers find that teleworkers are as productive as their in-office counterparts.

Had enough?  There’s plenty of data on the internet to help you build your business case when it comes to productivity.  Productivity is one of the biggest, and most researched, benefits of telework.

Good luck building your case!

Jason