RESOURCES: Telecommuting Done Right

We tell our clients that there are many green initiatives they can "try out" without a formal policy or program, but that telecommuting is not one of them. In fact, telecommuting is a green initiative that can go very wrong very quickly. But that doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing.

Today, we look at a recent article that provides some insight into the topic: The Top Ten Strategies For Managers of Mobile Workers: Surviving and Thriving in the Emerging Mobile Workforce, by Terrence L. Gargiulo.

In order to be successful, organizations have always had to keep pace with shifts in competitive advantage. But what constitutes a competitive advantage changes over time. A hundred years ago, for instance, it was economies of scale and manufacturing. Then decades later, it was the managing of information that drove organizational transformation.

Today, however, and looking forward, it will be the cultivation of rich relationships that drives success and competitiveness. In essence, employees will create value through interconnected relationships – relationships which need to be capable of synthesizing real-time information to create new products, services, data, or other relationships to respond to emerging market needs. The extra twist for this competitive necessity, though, is the meteoric rise in mobile workers around the world.

According to the IDC, 73% of the U.S. workforce, and 30% of the global workforce will be mobile by the year 2011. And although there are different ways of defining “mobile,” all of them have implications for how managers will nurture the rich relationships critical to remaining competitive. In managing an increasingly mobile workforce, some of the key benefits, challenges, and strategies for success are:

Benefits

Mobile workers can increase your influence and give you access to a broader range of talents, experience, and knowledge – bringing fresh ideas and innovative practices. With the speed of business today, success as a manager rests on the shoulders of motivated, committed employees, and today’s employees want flexibility.
Mobile workers shift managers’ attention from activities to deliverables, and less time spent overseeing employees’ daily activities means more time to be strategic – a critical shift for successful managers and future competitiveness.
Mobile workers thrive on collaborative relationships, which can lead to a more dynamic style of interaction for managers. When handled well, managers can maintain their authority while also being more collegial. A win-win.

Challenges

A common fear is that mobile workers will be less productive, but as long as people do not abuse the flexibility extended to them, this is likely an irrational fear. Managers of remote workers need to reinvent their jobs – from concrete control and oversight to something less tangible. Re-designing workflows and performance metrics, as well as a healthy dose of patience, will go a long way in smoothing this transition.
Positional power exerts less influence with mobile workers, and good managers will need strong influence skills – a relational ability that depends heavily on trust. The energy and creativity it takes to cultivate trust and influence with remote workers is one of the biggest challenges of leading a mobile workforce.
Information sharing can suffer with fewer face-to-face interactions, but technology can play a powerful role in addressing this challenge.

Strategies for Success

Focus on building relationships. With a mobile workforce, you are now in the business of managing relationships, so prioritize regular and sufficient time to foster strong relationships with your mobile employees.
Consolidate and prioritize communications. Use email, IM, texting, blogging, and threaded discussions for relationship-driven communications (being personal and staying in touch). For important work content, though, assess the communication preferences of you and your team and always make the message clear and comprehensive.  Don’t leave anything to assumptions.
Spend more time listening. When you are remote from your workers, it’s tempting to feel the need to convey more and more information – but don’t. Make listening and asking questions a priority, and it will not only create strong relationships, but will likely enhance productivity.
Manage deliverables, not activities. Lots of project work is well-suited to mobile workers, and even more task-driven roles can be effectively managed if broken into deliverables. Realize that many aspects of an employee’s job may need to be adjusted to accommodate a mobile work style.
Engage in more frequent and informal performance management activities. Remember, relationships are the heart of your job, so have ongoing, unstructured dialogs with your mobile workers about their goals and development plans – and try to adjust the style of this to each individual employee.
Give complete trust until a concrete behavioral reason exists not to. Mobile workers thrive when managers give them complete trust, so use trust to create strong relationships and performance.
And finally, leverage technology to support remote workers. Beyond email, IM, and phone, web conferencing will be critical for collaborating on projects in real-time.

Read the full article here.