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Teleworkers: Green, Wired, & Working

"We don't manage by whether you're sitting at your desk; we manage by whether you've produced the deliverables,"

~ Jacci Moss, IBM human resources director for Lotus software

In eco-conscious Portland - a land of bikes, trains, buses, and trolley cars - Clarity Innovations blazes its own eco-trail with a comprehensive teleworking model. And yes, teleworking is the new telecommuting (mostly because employers go for that whole "working" suffix thing)...you might also notice the phrase mobile working growing in today's vernacular.

At Clarity's heart, you'll find an accomplished group of dedicated education-minded techno-geeks based in Portland, OR with employees located in multiple states and sometimes worldwide. But Clarity isn't the only enterprise conquering the telework summit. SUN Microsystems' Open Work program continues to enjoy tremendous success after its launch 10 years ago, and the benefits recently documented include smaller carbon footprints and increased cost savings, productivity, and employee satisfaction.

Similarly, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, 40% of IBM's global workforce does not maintain an office in the company. As a result, IBM saves an estimated $100 million a year in on-site costs alone.

And if that's not enough for you, Fortune magazine reported that 84 out of the "100 Best companies to Work for" in 2008 allowed employees to telework from home at least 20% of the time. That's some good company Clarity's keeping.

With the teleworking crowd growing, IDC experts forecast the mobile workforce will exceed 1 billion workers worldwide by the year 2011. Why so many teleworkers? Because more and more documentation proves that teleworking:

  • Increases worker productivity (15 - 20%)*
  • Cuts absenteeism (20%)*
  • Mitigates business disruptions during strikes, floods, epidemics, inclement weather, and other emergencies
  • Cuts corporate real estate costs (25 - 90%)*
  • Provides more competitive recruiting
  • Increases free time for workers and thereby improves family lives
  • Reduces air pollution
  • Provides gas savings
  • Reduces wear and tear on roads and other transportation infrastructures
  • Increases employee retention rates

*Source for statistics: InnoVisions Canada/CTA (Canadian Telework Association)

Of course, with the expanding body of mobile workers, enterprises must thoroughly address key issues and move forward with a plan. The Clarity plan calls for teleworkers to rely on tools, communication, respect, and open minds.

Tools

Like any endeavor, the tools you use can make or break a job. Don't use hammers to rebuild motherboards - instead, use online collaboration tools, phone conferencing services, a VPN (virtual private network), and Microsoft Exchange to schedule meetings and report OOO (out of office) times to get your work done.

Tip: Standard teleworking equipment includes a printer and fax machine; voicemail; storage media to back up and transport data; computer with Internet access, preferably broadband; and a really comfortable chair for your desk (optional, but highly recommended).

Communication

Clarity employees stay in communication in a number of ways (possibly even more so than we would if we sat next to each other). We participate and contribute to:

  • Weekly "All Team" meetings every Monday morning to kick off the week
  • Regularly scheduled (weekly or biweekly) meetings for ongoing projects
  • Regularly scheduled all-group meetings with large clients
  • Online tracking documents for current projects to show progress
  • Integrated calendars to aid in scheduling meetings and deadlines

Tip: Use best practices when emailing and setting up meetings - make your subject lines informative; tell others that you "Got it!" if they send you an update or attachment; respond to messages (email, IM, text, voice, etc.) as quickly as possible, even if you can only state that you need to look into the issue further.

Respect and Open Minds

Finally, remember that you and your colleagues are professionals, even if you're working from your home office in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Always remember to:

  • Hold others accountable and be accountable - everyone in an enterprise must have distinct tasks and deadlines with reports and updates along the way.
  • Respect deadlines - meet them; if you must adjust a deadline, let others know as soon as possible.
  • Respect each person's expertise, knowledge, and input.
  • Be realistic - just as computer problems occur in a corporate office, computer issues are bound to interfere with teleworkers as well. Let people know as soon as you experience trouble and be patient when others experience technical difficulties.
  • Respect ideas and brainstorming in the same way you would in face-to-face settings.

Tip Always respect people's time - even in collaborative efforts, people need time to develop their input, contributions, and ideas. Creating an atmosphere of all-meetings-all-the-time cuts into productivity, so schedule meetings judiciously and maximize information exchange during meetings.

Your Off-Site Office

Closer to home, employees must ultimately take responsibility for creating a realistic workspace:

  • Create a distinct office space in a low traffic, low distraction area - the kitchen table is not an office space! You need to be able to "close the door" for meetings or get away from work on the weekends.
  • Have at least two working printers - one wireless, if possible, in case other colleagues meet at your remote office and bring their laptops, and a "backup" printer that also copies, scans, and faxes.
  • Have multiple phones in case a battery dies; having a wired phone can be helpful if getting a strong connection in your area is an issue.
  • Keep in mind that most business supply stores (such as OfficeMax, Staples, Office Depot, and The Green Office) deliver supplies quickly and for free. Gotta like that.
  • Invest in a comfortable chair. (Did I already mention that? I guess I kind of have a thing for my Trump Office chair!)
What about you? Help the global mobile workforce by posting your favorite teleworking tip.

 

Other Reading

CNET: Why do most companies still resist the idea of letting employees work outside of the home office? https://www.cnet.com/news/

Journal of Applied Psychology: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown About Telecommuting: Meta-Analysis of Psychological Mediators and Individual Consequences: www.apa.org/journals/releases/apl9261524.pdf (summary available on Daily Science: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071119182930.htm)

PC World: Telecommuting Saves Carbon Emissions: www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/138062/telecommuting_saves_carbon_emissions.html

SUNS Microsystems: Does Open Work really save energy, or just transfer energy cost and load to employees? http://training-time.blogspot.com/2008/06/new-telecommuting-statistics-show.html

 

In August 2011, Mary Millhollon joined our extended network of alumni.