Recently, a statistic has been cropping up that seems like very good news for teleworkers and the companies they work for. But, like all such numbers, there’s more there than meets the eye. First, the good news: teleworkers have been shown to handle individual tasks better and get more done than their co-workers in an office environment.
This sounds like an affirmation of telework, and we should all be working from home every chance we get. However, the research—and what we’re hearing from our clients—shows there’s a dark side to this particular circumstance.
While more individual work is getting done, it’s happening at the expense of some other things that need to happen. Basically there are 3 reasons your people are productive in one area that might have negative consequences elsewhere.
- They are working more hours.
- They are afraid the boss won’t think they’re working if they don’t crank out the work.
- They are ignoring their teammates and other parts of their jobs.
Working too many hours
Studies show that for many of us, telecommuting eliminates time spent in the car, or wasted time physically traveling from place to place. The problem is that doesn’t mean we’re “getting that time back” in our lives. In fact, many telecommuters are spending that extra time working, putting in more cumulative time on tasks than their peers in the office. That’s good news on one front—more stuff should be getting done if more time is spent on it—but also there may be issues of work-life balance and fairness that will need to be addressed.
Because there’s no psychological barrier to working almost any time, some teleworkers have a hard time establishing “work hours” and become slaves to their electronic devices, answering email from the moment they wake up til the time they go to bed. As a manager, you should be working with your team to set expectations and coach people to manage their time effectively.
They’re afraid the boss won’t think they’re working
This is a very real concern, especially in organizations with managers new to a remote working environment. We’re used to managing activity in the workplace (Alice is at her desk or she isn’t, and if she isn’t, what’s she doing?) but we literally can’t know what’s going on if Alice works from home. As a result, some people put in more time, or sacrifice things like their lunch time or deserved breaks in order to be responsive and show their manager that they’re working.
Additionally, many of us feel the need to respond immediately to any incoming email or Instant Message, just so people “know we’re working.” As you can imagine, this not only is stressful, it’s also a sign that there are problems with how employees are being coached and their performance managed.
They ignore the rest of their team to accomplish individual tasks
The studies that show individual task completion rates for remote workers, also have an obvious downside: those individual tasks are being completed at the expense of work that benefits the whole team. If I’m under a deadline, and I can work without having people constantly stop by my desk, or having to “run it past Steve,” or be on that conference call that sucks the life from my bones, I’m going to do it.
Additionally, if there are people I would prefer not to hear from, or tasks I don’t really enjoy, it’s easy to focus on what’s going to get me the best feedback from my manager (the tasks I’m assigned personally) and let the rest slide. While it’s easy to communicate with teammates electronically, it’s even easier to decide NOT to communicate with them.
When coaching employees about their goals and expectations, as well as the team’s goals, make sure that the good things are happening for the right reasons, otherwise the stress over time will create other problems that aren’t so easy to solve.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.