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Telework stories: Julie Angeley
How often does your staff telework?
I manage our operations staff. There are only four or five managers with the 20 or so research staff that are under the direction of our Director. I would say 100 percent of our research analysts work from home about a third of the time. Working at home is an informal arrangement that is part of the nature of those positions.
Two other staff work remotely under slightly more formalized arrangements where they have pre-arranged telework schedules. • One of our research coordinators was doing event coordination. That work involved a lot of emailing and coordinating with vendors that can be done by email or phone. She is an 80-percent time employee and she really appreciated the opportunity to do some of the work that does not require face-to-face interaction with co-workers. She was also happy to be able to do this work from home while taking care of a new puppy. • The other woman is redesigning our web page. Her commute from Everett is a two hour round-trip and costs her $14 a day to park. She works in the office three days and two days from home. She sends an email with changes to her schedule in order to let co-workers know where she will be working.
Do you have a formal telework agreement in place with your teleworking staff? If not, how did you set up guidelines, etc.
All of our team, except for one, is classified as professional staff. All of us take that term pretty literally to mean that we are responsible for getting our work done whatever time of the day and by whatever means necessary. Oftentimes it means working over 40 hours a week and oftentimes it means working at home or working remotely. We do policy research that takes about half of us out of town. Working from home is just another way we work remotely.
I think having one telework policy that tries fit all conditions would be too cumbersome for all organizations within the University. I think that if you can find guidelines that help a manager have really good conversations about the responsibilities and operating practices of working remotely would be a lot more helpful that a rigid policy. I would love to have a checklist that said “cover these five things in your conversation with your employees” – a guidelines sort of idea.
How did you set up teleworking guidelines?
We stick to schedules as best we can but the expectation is that you get yourself to the office for a meeting or a training that is going on when you have to be here. Wednesdays have worked out to be our ‘meeting day’ when everybody, whether you are a researcher or operations or communications person, comes to the office. Wednesday is a really busy day in the office and people have just come to expect that if they are going to choose a day to be in, that is the day. We have a standing staff meeting the first Wednesday of every month and it’s a great opportunity for everybody to have that face to face time. We keep it short and informal and check in and see what everybody is doing. I think it’s a valuable part of our work style because we are often not in the same place a good deal of the time, so the designated ‘day in the office’ is really valuable.
Do you telework? If so, for how long?
Prior to becoming a manager, my job was in communications and I worked a 70 percent schedule that was very independent because there wasn’t a need to be in the office. My projects were handled with email and only required me to be in the office for specific events. This practice has been extended to our current communications team. We’ve formalized by asking teleworkers to provide an expectation of their schedules – both when and where they will be working. For example, I work from home on Mondays until noon to catch up on email and then travel to the office.
Has teleworking affected the productivity of your staff?
My general feeling and that of other people I’ve talked to is that it productivity is better when working at home. You’re not distracted with ‘hallway’ conversations. You’re not wasting time commuting so you can use that time to be productive. Today was a great example. I stayed home and got right down to work. There wasn’t any checking in as I got to the office or walking around seeing what people are doing. You can just put the blinders on and get done what needs to get done.
How has the rest of the office staff been affected by teleworking?
I think in really busy times it’s nice to have everybody in the office. It is nice to be able to walk down the hall and know you can get a questions answered immediately. On the other hand, you distract that person from their work. So having everyone in the office helps keep one person moving but distracts the other. I don’t know if that is a big negative or merely adjusting expectations.
What are some of the disadvantages of teleworking?
I can’t image someone teleworking full-time in our organization because we really do benefit from some face-to-face interaction, seeing what their co-workers are doing and being available for informal meetings that occur. We’re all big eavesdroppers. It’s part of our culture. To a certain extent people are so busy and into the work and for a time, there really was a sense that people didn’t know what others were doing. You don’t see them and you can’t wander down to their office and know they are going to be there. Not that they are not doing their work, but in research you could be going down one path and learning things that would be good to share with another researcher. It’s not just knowing about what kind of work is happening but also what they are learning and what partnerships could come out of it. That is why the monthly meetings are so important.
Are you and your staff’s technological needs being met while teleworking?
Staff’s use of cell phones allows us to be in contact regardless of where someone is albeit Washington, DC or in a living room. Sharing files has been a bit of an issue and we are working on that and looking at third party technology that the UW doesn’t offer. I’m not sure that is so much an issue of teleworking as it is how we work in general. Where do we store files? How do people access shared files? The University’s move to using cloud storage would be helpful.
Has teleworking had any impact on the use of sick time/vacation time?
We probably use a little less sick time. I think that’s because we are flexible so that people don’t hesitate to say,” you know I feel like I’m getting a bug and instead of coming to the office and getting everybody else sick, I’m going to stay in my sweatpants on my couch and email from there.” Being able to work from home allows us to be productive while complying with the University’s policy of asking employees to stay home when you’re sick. We all have really full plates and nobody wants to miss a day of work because there is so much piling up. We’ve seen a positive impact in terms of using sick time for doctor’s appointments as well. People here can get a full day of work in. They either work here up until the time of the appointment and finish their work at home, or work at home and come in after, so I think the flexibility makes a difference.
Would you recommend teleworking to other managers at UW?
Definitely. In terms of the flexibility it offers and honoring the reality of people’s lives a little bit more. Telework reinforces the trust that management should have in the work employees are doing. It’s a good way to run a business if you can.
Encouraging teleworking among employees is valuable. Particularly when construction and traffic and all of these things add to the stress and inefficiency of your day, wasting three hours commuting to a job that you could do at home doesn’t make sense for anybody. I still telework myself and I have to consider the needs of my boss. I have the same kind of considerations as the staff who report to me. I want to be responsive and meet the obligations and the needs of my team.
However, I know that different departments have different constraints. We have a person at the front desk that I rely on to open the office each day and we have someone who is here to close the office. Because of the needs of her job she can’t telework. I understand that some organizations have different requirements and maybe a more public presence that they have to support.