What’s Inhibiting Telecommuting?

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Category: Communications

Corinne Miller is Founder & Principal Consultant at Innovating Results! where she consults, trains, facilitates, and coaches on communication – specializing in virtual communications, managing a virtual workforce, and virtual teaming; and innovation – specializing in applying innovation practices to everyday problem solving.

For the US, Gartner Dataquest reported six million telecommuters (eight or more hours per week) in 2000 and more than 12 million people in 2007. In 2009, Forrester reported 34 million telecommuters and an expectation that telecommuting would rise to include 63 million telecommuters or 43% of US workers by 2016.

Not a meteoric rise, especially since most of the usage is one-to-two days a week. Why isn’t usage rising faster, since the basic communication technology has been around for several years now?

Positions constrained by physical equipment and security restrictions simply cannot telecommute and certain organizations cannot prioritize the funding necessary for the successful implementation of telecommuting technology. But these are not the predominant “inhibiters.”

People are the inhibitor.  Many managers simply do not trust their workers to perform their work from home or other non-permanent location. They think workers will “goof off” or not “work as hard” without the watchful eyes of a co-located office environment. But tell me how you know they are not “goofing off” or not “working hard” in the office? Some think workers cannot perform their work effectively without the frequent “walk-by” guidance of their manager or assistance by office support teams.  Then don’t allow those to telecommute and why aren’t they on a performance improvement plan?

Managers are also concerned about the increase in complexity and time required to manage telecommuters. It does indeed take more time and is more complex to manage a virtual workforce, whether the workers are in a remote company facility, in the field, or telecommuting. It is totally understandable that overworked managers will resist more work.

How can we remove roadblocks to trust and decrease workload issues that are holding the adoption of telecommuting back?  Managers must “trust but verify” using defined and fair measures. This may be difficult for managers of the baby-boomer generation whose high-touch management style has proven successful. Additionally, managers should only allow a worker to telecommute if performance is at par or above, they are skilled in virtual-teaming, and the necessary technology is in place.

Managers can be more efficient by avoiding time spent on performance issues, conflict, and schedule misses by over-communicating every single expectation from goals and objectives to how collaboration should occur, how decisions should be made, and how conflict should be resolved. Roles and responsibilities must be unambiguous and accountability clear.

Have you seen examples or heard of situations that discourage telecommuting? What techniques, approaches, or tips facilitate telecommuting? Please join the discussion.

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