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Lessons Learned from a Multigenerational Conversation about Teleworking

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Whatever happened to Telework Week? It used to occur this first week of March, but it seems to have disappeared. Does that mean that telework is now so mainstream that it no longer needs a special week?

Three years ago, in honor of Telework Week, I posted Lessons Learned from an Interagency Conversation about Telework. This year, I celebrated my own Telework Week with a multigenerational (and multinational) conversation about telework, which consisted of perspectives from:

  • Ch—a millennial from Singapore
  • S—a gen X from India
  • Cl—a late baby boomer on the cusp of gen X
  • B—an early baby boomer at the other end of the spectrum

We considered two questions:

1) What is your personal preference for teleworking (something you do, want to do, don’t do)?

2) What can teleworkers do to be effective?

Let’s pause a moment and let you reflect: How do you think generational differences affect teleworking preferences and practices?

Got a hypothesis? OK, read on…

1) What is your personal preference for teleworking (something you do, want to do, don’t do)?

The responses to this question indicate that preferences for telework have more to do with life stage than with generation, although the two are parallel. Those with children at home (S, the gen X, and Cl the late boomer) were most likely to telecommute because they needed the flexibility and time for their kids’ schedules. S cited getting extra time with his young children as his primary reason for telecommuting. Cl, whose daughter just left for college, is finding that while she used to telework a lot, she is less likely to do so in an empty nest. B, the early boomer, acknowledged that his work experience had all been in the office, working with people face to face. He does not really want to telecommute. Everything he needs for his job, including the people he works with, are in the office, so that’s where he wants to be. Ch, the millennial, enjoys the benefits of teleworking, including saving on gas, getting household chores done during breaks, and having the flexibility to travel without taking leave. However, her preference is to be in the office. The equipment in the office (e.g., two big computer screens) is better, and she enjoys the camaraderie of office mates. She also finds it’s easier to establish and follow a rigorous schedule in the office.

B believes that teleworking should not be allowed for some job roles, especially managerial roles. He felt strongly that leaders should be in the office with their people. S felt that teleworking works better for some projects than for others. For example, when his team is dispersed, teleworking makes sense. However, when the team is collocated, he prefers to come into the office to be with team members. In addition, he makes a special effort to be in the office for all-hands meetings and special events.

Cl, who is an avid teleworker, feels she gets more done at home without distractions and the time required for commuting. She acknowledged, however, that being in the office provides access to information that’s “in the air,” for example an overheard conversation or an impromptu discussion in the hallway.

2) What can teleworkers do to be effective?

B, the early boomer, does not telework himself, but when working with teleworkers, what he looks for is responsiveness. If he calls or emails a teleworker, he expects a quick response and doesn’t like the uncertainty of waiting. He says that some of his teleworking coworkers are better at responsive communication than others.

Cl, the late boomer, suggests being proactive in communicating with others. You can build and maintain trust by anticipating needs and reaching out before someone can request something. Check email regularly so you can catch requests as soon as possible. Also, when you step away from your desk, leave an Out of Office message so people know when you’ll be back.

S, the gen X has a separate room for his home office, and he has set this up with technology and supplies comparable to his work office. He keeps a set schedule, ensuring he’s at his desk at the same time every morning. In order to be as responsive as possible, he forwards his office phone to his cell phone.

Ch, the millennial emphasizes the importance of planning her time. She is proactive and methodical in scheduling her days and allotting a certain amount of time to complete tasks. She also recognizes the importance of being available and responsive, so wherever she is, she makes sure she is contactable.

All four agreed that corporate culture was an important predictor of telework success. These four colleagues feel that teleworking is effective in their organization because management implicitly trusts employees to get their work done, and employees live up to that trust.

Telework preferences and practices continue to be highly personal. I suspect we may have gotten different answers had we asked different people.

What are your preferences and practices for teleworking? How closely did you match the perspectives and practices described here?

Claudia Escribano is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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11 Comments

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Bill McFadden

I don’t think that one’s generation makes all that much difference when it comes to tele-working. It is an individual type of thing, some love it and some don’t particularly care for it. I do agree, leaders and managers should be in the office. Some jobs are more conducive to tele-working than others. Personally, I am retiring in a few months, I tele-work two days a week and I love it. Most of my work involves working independently, I don’t need to be in the office. I have a weekly meeting with my Director one of the days when I am in the office, where we go over what I am working on and my priorities. Until I started tele-working I had concerns that I would have difficulty concentrating outside of the office environment which turned out to be unfounded. I found that my concentration is actually better working at home for the reason being that I am spared the interruptions of an office environment.

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Profile Photo Claudia Escribano

Thanks for your comment, Bill. I totally agree that preferences for teleworking are so personal and don’t seem to trend along generational lines. Your telework situation sounds really good. Several of my friends have had a similar experience to yours in terms of discovering that they enjoyed teleworking more than they thought they would.

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Tammy Seleski

I prefer to be in the office for my current job. However, when I was younger I had the opportunity to work from home and it was fantastic! I had a separate room for my office and I could work in the wee hours of the morning if I couldn’t sleep…I discovered that I was more conducive to business if I dressed for the office, though. The temptation to wear jeans and tees just didn’t help me put in my best effort. Staying in communication was key to and stopping into the office at least once a week for personal contact made me feel still apart of the team. I agree that being of a specific generation doesn’t matter but that personal choice and ability to work independently is the true measurement of tele-working success.

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Profile Photo Claudia Escribano

Thanks for your comment, Tammy! That’s interesting that it helps you to dress for the office even at home. That’s actually a great technique to remind yourself that you’re at work. I remember a colleague of mine telling me something similar. He even wore a tie. For me, I know I’m in “power” work mode when I don’t bother to get out of my sweats or do my hair and makeup. :-)

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Joyce

Telework did not work for me. I had to work from home for a week while the office was being remodeled. I did more work at home than I would have done in the office between 8-5pm. I found myself still working at 8p at night. Needless to say I never “dressed” for work at home, sometimes even working in my pajamas. I prefer to be in the office with other employees, and meet and greet people.

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Profile Photo Claudia Escribano

Thanks for your comment, Joyce. Teleworking is definitely a personal decision. I have several friends who feel exactly as you do. It’s nice to have options to work the way that’s most effective.

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Roselane

I love teleworking and so thankful my office has finally allowed us the opportunity. As a working mother with a 2 and 5 year the flexibility to see my children has allowed the phrase work-life balance become a reality. Also I commute so being able to cut back in gas and my mental health while driving has been wonderful. I love being able to get up and just get to work, not rush around thinking about traffic and signing in on time due to traffic. We get 2 days to telework and 3 days at the office so I am able to still see my co-workers. It really is about personal choice! I get more done at home as I am less distracted by the noise and seeing co-workers!

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Profile Photo Claudia Escribano

Thanks for your comment, Roselane. I think telecommuting is the best thing in the world for parents. When my daughter was young, teleworking allowed me to take her to swim lessons and to greet her and snack with her when she got home from school. I feel so lucky to have worked in two organizations that let me get my job done without sacrificing my family life. Teleworking was a huge part of being able to manage my schedule.

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John L. Waid

I love telecommuting. I love working in my pajamas with the coffee pot a few feet away. While I do miss interaction with my office-mates, e-mail works perfectly well for most things. I much prefer getting up at 7:30 on a telecommuting day than 4:30 for an in-office day.. If you are not a self-starter, telecommuting is not for you. I also find it helps to have a nodding familiarity with the technology to be able to resolve simple glitches and not have to go running to the geeks all the time, but if I do have to go to them it helps to be able to give them a better explanation of what is going on. For supervisors and managers, telecommuting requires a measure of trust in the tele-workers that is usually not part of bureaucratic DNA. it is the ultimate loss of day-to-day control of the employees that is the mantra of bureaucracies the world over. Like everything, it has its pros and cons, and each of us has to be able to evaluate whether or not it is a good match. The responsibility for making it work lies on the teleworker. Teleworking is a privilege and not a right.

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John L. Waid

Something I forgot. I am on the back end of my career and find office inter-action is not what it used to be. my department has gotten so big there are several people on my floor I have never seen. While I do like the people on my projects, as I said before, e-mail, especially since I got cable internet installed, works well for most things.

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