Managing T.E.L.E.work (Trust, Engaged, Looped-in, Expectations)

Posted by HR Analytics on Friday, January 9, 2015 Under: Telework

Call it telework, telecommute, remote work, virtual work, or flexible work, it all pretty much means the same thing.  It is a work arrangement that eventually could be the way we will all be working in the future (see Cisco, 2007).  And that future is here right now for many of us.   In a 2013 Gallup survey, 40% of employees surveyed were working remotely.  According to Global Workplace Analytics, the estimated?yola-link-is-coming=true total number of teleworkers grew nearly 80% from 2005 through 2012.  But even though such flexible work arrangement has been around for some time now and even expected to continue to grow, not everyone is quite ready to embrace it.  And not every manager knows how to manage remote workers.  There are many positive aspects to teleworking but it is not always positive.  Employees report higher satisfaction with work-life balance and lower burnout but for managers and supervisors, flexible work arrangement requires constant monitoring (Sundin, 2010).  Flexible work arrangements are supposed to benefit both the worker and the employer.  The benefits for workers are more obvious but for the managers of teleworkers, the benefits are not as straightforward. Managing teleworkers is an added responsibility that some managers might not be ready for and can pose challenge to their performance management abilities.  


So for employers offering or are considering offering flexible work arrangements, there are at least four necessary ingredients that can make these work arrangements effective.  There is even an appropriately fitting mnemonic that can help keep in mind what these ingredients are: T.E.L.E. -Trust, Engaged, Looped-in, Expectations. There are definitely more than just these four factors that can lead to a successful telework arrangement but these four main ingredients should get you rolling and help you identify other ingredients you can add to reach optimally functioning telework arrangements.  


Trust.  Trust, not only in telework arrangements but in today’s world of knowledge work, is a crucial organizational factor.  Interpersonal trust is the foundation of our interactions with other human beings including, yes, our coworkers.  It will be nearly impossible for coworkers to function collaboratively without trust.  One of the most well-known thinkers in modern management is Peter Drucker and he basically defines trust as having confidence and mutual understanding.  In a flexible work arrangement, both the employee and the manager will be relying on one another.  There will be no direct direct supervision and so integrity and trust will be very critical in such situation.  Managers should be able to trust that their teleworking employee is not taking naps or watching TV all day.  They need to be able to rely on the employee and trust that they will be able to count on them to deliver.  And trust goes both ways.  Employees need to be able to trust that their manager and their teammates will be reliable as well.  When the trust is impeded, disengagement happens and productivity will surely suffer.  


Engaged.  In many recent studies, we are learning that employee engagement is very important and that it leads to important business outcomes such as increased productivity, retention, and profitability.  So remote worker or not, managers need to make sure employees stay engaged.  According to a recent Gallup study, remote workers (32%) actually have a higher level of employee engagement than the on-site employees (28%).  But still, because of the isolation and physical separation, keeping remote workers engaged and connected can be a challenge.  Deploy a variety of tools and engagement strategies to ensure that remote workers stay engaged and feel connected to their work and to their organization.  It might be worthwhile to first define and determine how to measure engagement in your organization.  We are learning that engagement means different things to different people.   So in order to properly develop strategies for keeping remote workers engaged, there must be a clear definition of what it engagement is, specifically for remote workers.  We need to know what drives them to continuously perform the work with high quality despite working remotely and unsupervised.


Looped-in.  Keeping your remote workers in the loop is such a simple and basic concept but it can be easily overlooked.  Staying looped-in can be a challenge for remote workers but it is a vital step to stay engaged and not feel left out.  Being away from the office and from other coworkers can easily make remote workers feel isolated so it is important for managers and coworkers to keep each other in the loop and abreast of all the developments, minor or major.  Remote workers often miss the non-verbals, the bodily gestures, and the various facial expressions so it is hard to stay fully “looped-in” but managers should be always aware of this so that they can keep the remote workers in the know as much as possible.   And it’s not just the news and information that make it to the bulletin boards or newsletters but it’s also the minor office visuals and water cooler and hallway chatters that can be of value to your remote workers.   Make sure that remote workers also get access to information regarding projects or topics that pertain to other coworkers because those might also be useful and even lead to further action and collaboration.  Staying in the loop is a two-way street for both the manager and the remote worker.  Remote workers have to actively reach out to try and stay in the loop while managers have to constantly keep them in the loop.  


Expectations.  Remote workers and managers must be clear on what the expectations are. Set mutually understood goals and expectations that are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound).  This will help both the manager and remote worker know what deliverables are expected and how they can manage both their expectations right from the start.  This also gives remote workers a better sense for how they should manage their time.  Remote workers are often challenged by time management because the 9-to-5 time boundaries are no longer clear and that working longer hours become an issue for some.  Remote workers, on average, worked 4 more hours per week than their on-site counterparts (Gallup, 2013).  Managers, especially not having a visual of their remote worker, need to be aware of the workload that they are assigning.  


Remote work is here to stay and is probably only going to increase.  It is new for many of us but there are strategies that can make it a really effective work arrangement.  These 4 elements outlined above are essential but these are only 4 of the many other elements that will drive the work arrangement to be successful.  Spend some time analyzing and understanding your remote work arrangements as they are often unique and situational and that strategies for making them work will likely need some customized tailoring.  

In : Telework 


Tags: telework  remote worker  telecommute 
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