For unexpected reasons (hint: I was hit by a car over the weekend and wound up with a bum knee but thankfully nothing beyond that), I found myself unable to go into work this week. As bruised as my body may have been, my mind was sound and felt restless in the confines of the house, even with the prospect of filling some of the time with my writing project. Not to mention that I had anticpated a busy work week and there were things that I simply needed to get done. Enter into the scene one of most intriguing developments in the modern workplace over the last 20+ years: telework.
I have to admit that I have hesitated in embracing the telework trend, despite the increasing ease of doing so over the last year or so in my workplace. Now don’t get me wrong here – I firmly believe that employers should judge their employees by the extent to which they reach their clearly defined work and output objectives ala the much lauded Results-Oriented Work Environment. As my mother would say, BIC (butt in chair) managers are so seized with making sure that they can keep track of their employee’s whereabouts that they forget about the reasons why they have said employees: to get things done. BIC managers are inefficient and often insecure, which is what leads them down such a dangerous management path.
At the same time, telework is still such a new concept, and if utilized in the wrong situation, it can be awfully hard to determine what exactly it is that an employee is doing with their time. This is especially true in situations (such as my own) where employees are working without clearly defined and measurable objectives. Add to this an incredibly laid-back managerial style, and you have the recipe for a potential telework disaster. (Not all of us have situations like the one that NextGov.com describes at the Defense Information Systems Agency, where telework standards and methods of evaluation are clear and equitable.)
I can’t be the only one who, over the past few months, has witnessed the results of people teleworking in these less than optimal situations. One of the classics is the “telework vacation,” that all too common situation when someone “teleworks,” but somehow never manages to send or respond to a single email, can’t be reached by phone, and somehow never finishes whatever it is they set out to do in the first place. While I hate to use things likes emails and phone calls as proxies for real work, the fact is that when you work in a situation without clear deliverables, you have to resort to something.
Yet another is the “out of office” telework day, in which the individual puts up an out of office message to let their colleagues know that they simply won’t be as responsive today – after all, they are teleworking. And unsurprisingly, they really are not very responsive at all. It’s the perfect self-fulfilling prophecy. These “out of office” teleworkers drive me almost as crazy as the “vacation” teleworkers. The whole point of telework is that you are as responsive and productive as you would be on any other day, plain and simple.
Witnessing these and other examples of telework mis-use, I was loathe to add myself to the same pool. I have, however, been delightfully surprised to discover this week that not only can telework be enjoyable and preferable to sitting in a dusty old cube all day (and listening to co-workers deal with their personal issues over the telephone), but on top of that, telework can actually be ridiculously productive. With the right environment (for me, my quiet living room with music playing softly in the background), away from the distractions of the workplace (and drive-by taskers from the higher-ups), and with the right method of focus (mine’s simple – I love making prioritized lists and yes, I am a strong J in the Myers-Briggs), I have discovered that telework actually really does work. And truth be told, it seems to work even better than my normal work. Amazing.
The reality is that I work in a situation where I really do need to be in the office at least a few times a week. And I love it, if it means meaningful interactions with a dynamic group of co-workers. Yet, if I’ve discovered anything this week, it’s that I could afford to shake up my workplace routine by adopting some kind of regularly scheduled telework. Maybe once a week, maybe once every two weeks. Someday, maybe it’ll even be up to several times a week. Either way, it’ll contribute to my overall workplace satisfaction, drive up my productivity, and will help me regain some of the focus that seems to disappear in the day to day crush of normal office life. That will translate into extra time, energy, and focus that can then be used for some of the other important things in my life. And finally, if the GSA is right, it could even save my employer some serious money too. Everybody wins.