Women’s Leadership Scholar & Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership, Huntsman School of Business, Utah State University.
Flexibility is still the name of the game in 2021, and the largest portion of workplace conversations around this includes the topic of teleworking (also called telecommuting, remote working, work-at-home, work-from-home, homeworking, e-work, mobile work and virtual work).
Even before the pandemic, teleworking from home had been on the rise, and research shows that most of us would prefer to continue to have that option, even when things return to “normal.” As we move toward that goal, it’s important to find the healthiest balance between virtual and in-person work so that both employees and employers can work in healthy, productive environments.
Now is the time for organizational leaders to consider longer-term strategies and teleworking policies. Years ago, I conducted research on teleworking and found ample evidence of its benefits for individuals and organizations. These past research reports have consistently provided clear contextual parameters of the benefits that still apply today, and I will highlight four:
1. When employees were able to maintain the same number of hours that they had worked in the office, there were more benefits.
2. If full-time employees teleworked 2–3 days per week, but they were in the office or field the other days, there were more benefits. Of course, the current pandemic has not made this possible for most, but many studies were also published well before video conferencing was more common, and isolation was a major challenge. On the other hand, current research has found that employees today may still be feeling less social support and isolation in different ways, which makes this still a concern.MORE FOR YOUThree Strategies Women Leaders In Government Can Use To Get AheadWhere Have All The Women Gone?Gender Parity Pledges: Do They Make A Difference?
3. Employees benefitted when they had a stable support system, including consistent, reliable and quality childcare. Of course, during many months of the pandemic, childcare has not been available for all young children, and many school-aged children and teens have had to be homeschooled; this has added another layer of unpaid care work, particularly for women.
4. Conditions are optimal when employers and employees find ways to continue career development opportunities and remain “visible” to their managers, coworkers and clients.
Obviously, these parameters have not been held in place effectively for many employees, particularly for women. Hence, what some writers have termed the “pink recession” must shift for teleworking to have all of the above-mentioned benefits. Longer-term successful teleworking arrangements must benefit all, including women and the organization.
To assist organizations to implement longer-term teleworking programs effectively, I offer five recommendations for managers and leaders:
1. Be prepared to design new approaches to evaluate, educate, organize and inform workers.
For example, communication that clearly spells out deadlines and expectations is vital. When people work from home, the traditional start and end times can get blurred with early birds who tend to get everything done before noon, while the night owls excel after dark. What matters is that deadlines are clearly communicated.
2. Because managing remotely requires new skills and attitudes on the parts of both managers and employees, design appropriate training and development opportunities.
For example, many managers have equated productivity with being at a desk. As we know, just because employees are at their desks does not always mean they are being productive. During the pandemic, managers have been forced to learn that results matter most. In addition, managers who give and receive timely, open and constructive feedback and information tend to lead more effective remote teams.
3. Ensure there remain plenty of opportunities for social interaction to maintain effectiveness and reduce unanticipated problems.
Managers need to promote connections with their employees and between employees. Just because you aren’t in the same space physically doesn’t mean you don’t need to encourage connections. One idea is to assign everyone to take a strengths questionnaire and share results virtually. And be sure to acknowledge birthdays and milestones that would have been noted in person. People need to feel seen and valued, especially when remote.
4. Train workers to adapt to a new environment and cope with the challenges it poses.
There are now a host of resources available online. For example, the Center for Creative Leadership, a global nonprofit organization, provides research-based articles and programs geared toward mindsets, adaptability, crisis leadership and other helpful topics.
5. Monitor teleworking carefully and react quickly to adjust any unintended negative consequences.
For instance, if someone who was incredibly productive in the office seems to be less so from home, have a conversation with them and see what’s happening. Maybe they need to get a designated space just for work, have more finite work boundaries so self-care is not neglected or are feeling isolated and depressed. The sooner the problem can be identified, the sooner a solution can be found.
Of course, due to the sudden onset of the pandemic, organizations of all sizes have faced many challenges, and those that have been successful have met and accepted these challenges with effective and strategic changes. In looking down the road after this current pandemic is over, I believe that the benefits of teleworking — if designed and implemented effectively — will continue to outweigh the challenges and problems that employees and employers have and will face. I do believe that the face of running businesses has changed forever.