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Telework stories: Linda Lake
How long have you managed staff who telework?
We currently have one employee that is teleworking on a formal basis and we have a small group of employees that work at home seasonally when we are processing student applications.
How frequently do they telework?
The employee that teleworks regularly does it every Thursday. Our seasonal telecommuters’ schedules can vary. Some will work at home 3 or 4 days one week, or maybe over a months’ term, work part-time at home and part-time here on campus so they get uninterrupted time to complete their work. These practices are done informally but not for very long or else they would have to be formalized. The seasonal teleworkers and their supervisors use a written email agreement to establish how working at home will operate. This agreement is reviewed occasionally to make sure it is working well.
Do you telework? If so, for how long?
I work at home occasionally. I don’t have any distractions at my house so I am able to work on projects that require concentration and without interruptions.
Do you have a formal telework agreement in place with your teleworking staff? If not, how did you set up guidelines, etc.
When we receive a request for a telework agreement from an employee, we create an ad hoc committee to review the request. This group includes people from other units where the person interacts for his or her job. Generally we review documents ahead of time and have one meeting so we can decide if we think it will work. Sometimes more questions come up that require me to recontact the individual requesting to telework. The ad hoc group communicates its review to the Dean to make sure she is aware of the action. All telecommuting arrangements are temporary for the first six months. We do use the formalized agreement and it is understood that the telework arrangement has to work for both the employee and the departments.
Has teleworking affected their productivity?
There has been no change in the productivity of our ‘regular’ teleworker. We haven’t noticed any change in her work or tasks. She does everything that she did before. When I pick up the phone or call her, sometimes I don’t even realize that she is not here in the building. Her phone is forwarded to her home when she leaves here at night and she is immediate with email responses. She is also very flexible. If we have a situation where the meeting could not be scheduled around her day to work at home on Thursday, she is really flexible about coming to our office. For example, she becomes our ‘go to’ person if I am on vacation. Or, if we are putting together an interview and we are trying to get the interview team together on Thursday, she is flexible about changing her schedule.
She is able to access her office computer remotely so she is working on her desktop when she is at home. She also has a printer at home. She schedules face-to-face appointments around her telework days. I had the chance to see her home office. She has a sign on her door that says “mom is working” so her family knows not to interrupt her. It’s a good system that works for her and for us. It gives her that time away that is uninterrupted with no walk-ins and she is able to cluster her work in a way that helps all of us.
What is your attitude regarding teleworking?
It is important to understand an employee’s work habits. We get a sense of this usually within six or seven months. What I look at more than how long someone has been here is, their work ethic, and then, what are the demands of the job. Can the job be done remotely and not have any adverse effects on the staff, faculty and students at the school?
Teleworkers have to have a really strong work ethic and their tasks have to be ones that can be done at home without inconveniencing their clients. The clients should be unaware of, or at least not be concerned with where work is taking place. We have to be able to provide a seamless customer experience for students, staff, and faculty regardless of where the work is taking place.
Would you recommend teleworking to other managers at UW?
Yes. My main advice is to make sure that teleworking works for both the employee and the unit. I can see where a lot of positions may not lend themselves to working remotely. Human Resources happens to be a department where teleworking is viable and we have had financial people do it as well. Jobs that involve student service and career services are a challenge to be done at home because they have to be accessible to students on campus.
Are you and your staff’s technological needs being met while teleworking?
Our telecommuting agreement requires that employees have certain equipment (e.g., computer set-up) and connectivity (e.g., ability to log into our network) at home. We don’t pay for any equipment or services with State resources.
In your opinion, what are some of the benefits of teleworking?
What I appreciate about working at home is not spending an hour and half getting ready every morning. I just sit down and work. I’ve got my cell phone, email, iPad. People at the office know how to get to me when I am working remotely.
In your opinion, what are some of the disadvantages of teleworking?
One has to really evaluate the type of job that is being performed, but more importantly, the employee’s character. If they are an excellent employee who stays on task and gets their work done, they are probably going to be successful at teleworking. If they are not, they are not going to be successful.
One of the other challenges around teleworking is supervision. As a manager, I do not believe that you can supervise if you telecommute more than half of the work time. You cannot do a good job of supervising staff if you’re not in the office to help them, or you’re not here to correct them. From the employees’ perspective, there are face-to-face conversations you need to have with your manager to vent, get guidance, or whatever requires face-to-face interaction. Those types of conversations are complex from both sides and I think it’s hard to feel like you’ve done a good job for your work unit and for the employee if you (the manager) are not in the office enough. I don’t see these as reasons to not telework, but it adds complexity to your agreement and it needs to be managed and monitored on both sides.
Has teleworking had any impact on the use of sick time/vacation time?
Our professional staff can work from home if they aren’t feeling well. They have to be in contact on these days. So if I can’t reach them I ask how they would like to charge their leave. We have to be consistent with our sick leave and vacation policies.
How do your fellow managers respond to the idea of teleworking?
I think attitudes about work have changed. I think more people are open to working remotely than ever before. Part of the reason for the change is tightening resources. In the past, you had lots of employees and ample resources. You didn’t have to think outside the box to get things done. But commuting has gotten more expensive and travel time to campus has gone up. We’ve also been unable to give people pay raises in four years, so we start to think “Is there a way we can make their working conditions better? “. I think all of those factors contribute to employee stress so perhaps this is one way to help people to get their work done with less stress.