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Telework stories: Dr. Kenneth A. Schenkman
How long have you managed staff who telework?
I’ve managed teleworkers for about ten years. We set up a telecommuting arrangement early on in our research project for one of our research scientists. She has a long commute from Bainbridge Island to the UW campus and we’ve had this arrangement since almost the first day she started.
How frequently does she telework?
She is a three-quarter time employee. She comes to campus two days a week on Mondays and Thursdays, and the other two days she works from the field or her home.
Do you telework?
Pretty much everyone on my team does to some extent. I’ve adopted the work-from-home model and telework a couple times a month. Our team uses email communication and we have conference calls when one of us can’t make it into the office for some reason, like working in the field or attending a conference—those types of things.
Do you have a formal telework agreement in place with your teleworking staff? If not, how did you set up guidelines, etc.
Our agreement is informal. Early on we established a work pattern, which days she would be on campus for example, but it has not been documented.
Has teleworking affected productivity?
Teleworking has increased productivity in some instances. There are certain parts of my employee’s work, such as data processing, where it is easier for her to telework and more efficient as well since she is not interrupted or distracted like one would be in the lab. For her “on campus” days we have more time for planning. The lab group has really evolved as a team to work together some days and independently on other days. We have telephone conference calls one or two times a week for approximately a half an hour to stay in touch and update each other on the work.
What is your attitude regarding teleworking? Have you experienced any change in the attitude during the telework arrangement?
It has been a pretty positive experience for our group, which ranges in size of three to five people. We’ve structured our work so one person is in the lab all the time, and each of us has uninterrupted time as well. We’ve been doing this a long time and we have developed a really good working relationship and system.
Would you recommend teleworking to other managers at UW?
I don’t know how others would arrange working remotely. I do know that I recommend it for us and the people on our team.
How do your fellow managers respond to the idea of teleworking?
I think it is being met more favorably than it was in the past. The perception is changing and people see the productivity and lifestyle benefits. They are also talking about the sustainability benefits, such as not having so many cars on the road.
Are you and your staff’s technological needs being met while teleworking?
It is not uncommon for us to have four or five people on a conference call. We typically just use the phone in the conference room and patch everyone together. We’ve tried using technology like Skype in the past; we’ve found that conference calls are the simplest way to communicate.
Is the rest of the office affected by teleworking?
We have developed a habit of perhaps putting off discussions because one of our team is not there. The thought is “let’s wait until Monday so we can talk as a group.” Occasionally scheduling can be challenging when we are meeting with other groups, or those outside of our group.
What are some of the benefits of teleworking?
One of the biggest is that we’ve been able to retain a key employee over a long period of time. Her commute from Bainbridge Island takes up a lot of her time, and it is a big advantage for her to be able to telework a few days a week, both from a productivity time and a lifestyle standpoint. If we had not been able to accommodate her and have her on our team for this long period of time, the work we’ve done would not have happened. What are some of the disadvantages of teleworking? I really don’t see any disadvantages for us. We have good communication within our group, so there have been very few challenges.
Has teleworking had any impact on the use of sick time/vacation time?
I don’t think it has had an impact. There has never been a problem with using vacation time or putting in sick leave. We have a good work rapport and she is motivated by the same things as I am, so the work is getting done without any noticeable impact by vacations or sick leave.
Have your staff’s job duties changed as a result of teleworking?
The way the work gets done is a little different, but the job has not changed.