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‘How do I know they’re working?’

July 1, 2011

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Regardless of the benefits touted by proponents of telework, many organizations remain resistant to implementing such a change.

Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of the Washington-based Telework Coalition, said one of the main roadblocks is a lack of trust between managers and employees. “The biggest question I get is: ‘How do I know they’re working?’ My comeback is: ‘How do you know they’re working when they’re in the office?’ It’s great that you can see them, but how do you know that they’re working?”

He noted that while in the office, workers have a number of distractions, whether it is talking to co-workers, checking personal email or social networking sites, or going out for cigarette breaks. “When you go to an office, you start at 8 a.m. and you leave at 5 p.m.; you have to get all this peripheral stuff done in addition to getting your work done. So a lot of people just don’t have time for work,” he said. “It’s all the things that people do that are distractions during the day.”

Some research indicates that, contrary to many managers’ perceptions, teleworkers actually are more productive than employees working in an office. According to a Richmond,VA-based Telework!VA report, when the Maryland Department of Transportation introduced telework to its employees, the department experienced a 27 percent increase in productivity. Likewise, research indicated that employees at American Express who telework produce 43 percent more business than employees in the office.

Cindy Auten, general manger of the Alexandria, VA-based Telework Exchange, believes the focus on having workers in the office represents a generation gap. “Anytime you change the way people work, you’ll always come up against some resistance,” she said. “I think it’s a generational thing.”

Management training is necessary to produce an effective telework program that is accepted by management. “It’s a cultural shift,” Auten said. Managers “really need to focus on what [employees] do and their work output, as opposed to punching a time clock or seeing them sitting at a desk.”

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