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Ready for the Remote Work Revolution?

Call it what you will: telecommuting, remote work, telework, working from home, etc. Regardless of how one labels it the truth remains the same: telework works, period!

However, for remote work to be successful employers must make sure such practices are properly applied and implemented with strict standards to ensure employee accountability, high performance and productivity.

Some federal agencies are good role models for the private sector, while others still need to get with the program already. The Telework Enhancement Act has been around for over four years.

Telework is obviously not for every employee. It all depends on the job at hand.

  • First, an employee must be qualified, eligible, ready, willing and able to work remotely.
  • Second, an employee must demonstrate exemplary performance on a consistent basis whether working in or outside of the traditional office arrangement.

Any employee who fails to meet these two basic standards should have their telework eligibility immediately revoked.

Although many jobs are currently not conducive to telework, others may be a good fit.

To wit: leveraging high-tech job tools allows qualified employees to work smarter and more effectively via the virtual workplace. Telework also helps employees maintain the increasingly important work-life balance, which is especially beneficial for those with family and caregiver responsibilities or employees with disabilities and serious medical conditions.

More large employers need to look at the macro picture. Today’s high-tech mobile/digital world is already an integral part of contemporary society and is fast becoming a permanent fixture of the modern-day global work culture.

Employer Intransigence

So why are so many employers still intransigent regarding telework adoption? The answer may be twofold:

  • Management Resistance, and
  • Entrenched Bureaucracy

Most managers may not trust employees to work from home or other remote locations. However, micromanagement and clock watching are not workplace best practices. Moreover, it takes time for status-quo employers to accept new ways of doing business. This is even more challenging for employers when veteran managers fight innovative change in favor of antiquated work practices, policies and procedures.

Unfortunately, too many managers have tunnel vision regarding telework. This is largely based on myths, fears and stereotypes — such as the work won’t get done because employees will goof off at home (as if this never occurs in the traditional office setting).

Yet just showing up at work is not nearly enough to make an employee a human asset to the organization. Moreover, many managers are afraid of relinquishing any control over those they supervise. This is because they think it will weaken their management ability and be perceived as a loss of authority and power.

However, is it asking too much for managers to give some high-performing employees the benefit of the doubt regarding telework?

How about adhering to the tried and true principle of “trust but verify”?

There’s already a plethora of empirical studies and anecdotal evidence demonstrating that telework simply makes good business sense when correctly applied to targeted segments of the workforce. The many benefits to employers include:

  • Increasing bottom-line productivity and profit,
  • Boosting employee morale, engagement and job satisfaction,
  • Saving millions of dollars on expensive building leases and office space,
  • Ensuring continuity of operations during emergencies and shutdowns,
  • Fostering a more healthy workforce (both physically and mentally),
  • Accommodating workers with major family and caregiving responsibilities,
  • Reducing chronic absenteeism and high health care costs, and
  • Decreasing harmful pollution inherent with gas guzzling commutes.

Empowering High Performers

Perhaps most importantly, telework helps builds trust — not lessen it — by liberating and empowering top performers to do their best work, a win-win outcome for employees and managers. What should matter most to employers are tangible results rather than where, when or how work is done.

For instance, would a manager rather have:

  • Disengaged employees who may consistently “punch the clock” but are unproductive and problematic in the workplace, or
  • Teleworkers who exceed performance goals and boost productivity and mission-related activity?

The answer should be a no-brainer.

Today’s employers in the private and public sectors must adapt to the 21st century Information Age just as their predecessors successfully transitioned to more effective, efficient and productive ways of working during the Industrial Revolution and thereafter.

The high-tech Information Revolution means the traditional brick-and-mortar workplace paradigm is undergoing a radical shift to a virtual work environment, albeit slowly but surely. This is primarily due to the persistent proliferation of new and evolving digital/mobile/virtual technology at the dawn of a new century.

A new era means new and better ways of doing business. Employers can run away from the virtual workplace but they can’t hide forever.

Embracing the New Normal

Therefore, if forward-thinking employers want to remain competitive in the future global marketplace they will be compelled to embrace telework for applicable jobs. Business and government leaders must accept the reality that working remotely will soon be the new normal, whether they like it or not. It’s also a potent incentive to attract a new generation of workers.

The fact is that Millennials (Generation Y) are 80 million strong and growing. They are entering the workforce at increasing rates and will eventually take charge of it altogether — followed by Generation Z — as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers retire and move on.

This new generation of innovative leaders will fully embrace the unequivocal reality that many aspects of work are inextricably linked to virtual environments based on the latest high-tech innovations.

Old-school employers who choose to reject this inevitable change will only fall victim to it.


* This blog was first featured on LinkedIn “Influencer” posts under Productivity

** In case you missed it: Gov Should Resolve to Expand Telework in New Year (Jan. 2014)

*** Join the author on Twitter @DBGrinberg and/or connect on LinkedIn

**** All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any government agency, employer or group.

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Leland L. "Ted" Cogdell, Jr.

I have been teleworking full-time for more than four years. In each of those years, I have earned 4/5 (Meets and Often Exceed Performance Expectations). Before full-time telework, I usually earned a 3 (Meets Performance Expectations). For those of you who love data, that’s something to chew on. You might recall from Statistics 101, we learned that you need three data elements to show a trend. Well, there are four here. I may not always earn a 4, but that’s okay, too. I do the very best with what I have and call it a day.

Telework is great for those without any physical challenges. Telework also helps keep those who may have substantial limitations in major life activities (commonly called “disabilities”) to remain in the work force, contribute to the mission of the agency, earn a living, raise their families, pay their taxes, and helps folks reach their full human and professional potential. And that’s just a shot list of what makes telework so awesome.

Telework works! In the rare event that it does not, those in positions of trust and authority need to use the coaching, leadership, and management skills that they should have learned before being promoted to team leader, supervisor, manager, or executive and address the problem following agency and local protocols, while reaching out to others in the agency who should be able to assist you in the situation. Sometimes a tweak is needed; it’s not a big deal. Engage in the interactive process in good faith, and you’d be surprised with what results can be achieved for the employer and the employee–not to mention the vital work at hand for the American taxpayer.

Carol Kruse

Me personally? No…I’m weird, I know, but my home is my sanctuary and I don’t want work invading that. Could I telework at a coffee shop? No, too many distractions. A library, maybe, if I could find a corner where they’d let me come and sit all day M-F. But then, might as well be at the office.

Oh, let me hasten to say that I’m a dinosaur, so part of my angst is admittedly generational — work has been a place I go to for 50 years, it’s hard to change and get comfortable with doing my job anywhere. And I’d have to convert all my paper files to digital ones.

I do find it frustrating to be in the office and have everyone else teleworking…I mean, dang, I’m having to learn to use Lync and call people instead of just walking down the cubie aisle to visit them! Yeah, yeah, I know, another one of those dinosaur issues to work through. And with the completely blow-my-mind webinar and live meeting platforms available today, there’s no reason to even come to the office for meetings!

I am dismayed that workers just get approved to telework and then are left to their own devices. It seems to me (perhaps due to my dinosaur thinking) that an employer should do more than say, “Here, you’re approved to telework, what’s your schedule going to be, and by the way there’s some training on-line if you want to take time to look at that and find out what telework is all about.”

All that said, I would love to telework if I can overcome my issues…I’m working on it! I believe in telework, think the concept and benefits (to everyone except custodians and building lessors) are awesome, and see it as one of the more exciting and sensible trends of the future!!

David B. Grinberg

Ted and Carol, thanks so much for sharing your feedback — which is very much appreciated. A few thoughts:

TED: You deserve accolades for being a model teleworker and proving that remote work does indeed work well when correctly implemented. Moreover, as you noted, employers may consider telework as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities — as appropriate and on a case-by-case basis. Here’s an EEOC Fact Sheet with further information for those interested. You really hit the nail on the head regarding employees AND managers working together for a positive outcome. You write:

  • Engage in the interactive process in good faith, and you’d be surprised with what results can be achieved for the employer and the employee–not to mention the vital work at hand for the American taxpayer.

CAROL: I fully understand that telework is not for everyone. Moreover, it may create perception issues among co-workers. However, I think each employee should mind their own business and focus on their own work rather than their co-workers’ situation — that what manager are for. Also, a think older folks get a bad rap regarding adapting to new technology and new ways of doing business in the mobile/digital era. Age is only a factor if one makes it an issue. My own view is that age is just a number and people should not make stereotypical assumptions about what older or younger workers can or can’t do. Also, managers and supervisors who receive appropriate telework training know how to successfully manage remote workers. Don’t be afraid to dip your proverbial toe in the water of telework. It’s at least worth a try based on one’s personal work situation and management approval.

Again, many thanks for the awesome comments — I’m much obliged!


Phuong Le Callaway, PhD

Telework works! It is a talent management tool to attract the right candidates for the right positions. Management should embrace this new workforce environment and hold employees responsible and accountable for deliver expected performance outcomes and results. Telework should be considered as an added benefit in this digital workforce. Leaders should support telework policy and hold managers responsible for implementing it. It is good for the nation also in case of national crisis. Employees work around the clock despite national emergency situations and weather hazards. Telework will increase employee morale and productivity!

David B. Grinberg

FYI — NextGov reports: “Telework Week Saved Feds 14 Million Miles, $13 Million“:

  • “This year’s Telework Week, which ran March 3-7, drew 163,973 pledges, more than four times the 2011 number. The average Telework Week participant teleworked two days during the week, avoided a 45-mile round-trip commute into the office and saved 4.5 hours and $90 in commuting costs for the week.”

  • “Nearly all (94 percent) pledges came from the federal government, enabling federal employees to save a collective $13 million in commuting costs, avoid 14 million miles of travel and gain back more than 716,000 hours.”

  • “Mobile Work Exchange calculated that if all Telework Week 2014 pledges teleworked for one year, they would collectively save $702 million.”
  • “If all federal employees eligible to telework would do so one day a week for a year, collectively they would yield significant savings of more than $36 billion, according to MWE estimates.”

Check out Mobile Work Exchange INFOGRAPHIC