Teleworking is becoming an increasingly popular way of working for many people. The convenience of wearing pajamas while working aside, the home often offers freedom, privacy and a distraction free environment which lends itself to a more productive and functional workplace than the traditional cubicle office. For employees, teleworking offers reduced commute times and reduced stress. For the employer, teleworking offers reduce cost, increased productivity, increased morale and increased resilience to external forces (i.e. transit strikes, natural disasters etc). So the question remains, why is teleworking not supported by the public sector? Why do many bosses get “suspicious” if their employees are not physically in their cubicle? Why despite the numerous benefits are many workers still working out of their offices?
The first answer that springs to mind is the notion of the necessary face to face social interaction that can only be offered through a traditional office setting. We are social creatures and we crave interaction with other humans. What is more traditional than the office water cooler gossip or the casual chat with a co-worker over the game last night. After all, did you see how badly the goalie missed that shot? Traditional offices also facilitate face to face interaction at a more professional level where that interaction is important to close a sale, convince others of your ideas or make sure your point is heard. It is impossible to eliminate the traditional office setting altogether as there are situations where office space is needed.
However, does that mean an employee needs to come into work each and every day for 8 hours a day? The benefits of teleworking are numerous for both the employer and the employee. In the public sector, the tipping point stems from the traditional style of management still prevalent, the command and control military style of structure. This management structure is top-down and hierarchal. All public service work revolves around this structure. The presence of an employee in their cubicle offers a source of power to senior management which is difficult to give up. There is a sense that a worker “is not working” unless they are physically present. There is also a sense that work in the cubicle is somehow a better product than work at home. For a top down management structure, it becomes problematic to give up power over your employees and offer them the independence and freedom that comes with teleworking. Is this the only reason teleworking is not supported? I suspect it is one reason among many but it is the most prominent in the public sector.
So how do you bring teleworking to your public sector workplace? I would encourage any public servants looking to telework, to talk to their managers about the benefits of teleworking. While the benefits from your side will be significant, frame your discussion around the benefits to them as an employer. Recognize the “reservations” your manager will have about teleworking employees. Your manager will be worried about losing control, may not trust their employees or be worried that work will not be done unless they are physically there to remind you. Your manager may have other reasons. Drill down to the core reason your manage is wary of teleworking and address the issue with a rationale well structured counter point. Offer a deal to your manager. Tell the manager that you want to run a trial, if he/she lets you telework for even just one day, you will prove that his/her fears are unfounded and that the productivity gains far outweigh the reassurance they get from your physical presence in the office. You may just end up proving to your boss that teleworking is not as bad as it seems.
Scott McNaughton, thenewbureaucracy.ca