How to facilitate telework for all and maximize its potential
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Telecommuting is a growing phenomenon. It is likely to be increasingly attractive to employees seeking to balance their professional and personal goals, as well as to employers looking for a more flexible work arrangement.
With the right organization, teleworkers can maximize the benefits of this flexible work arrangement.
A mandatory set-up
Telework is a practice that can simultaneously improve the flexibility of both the company and the employees, requiring a climate of trust between the two entities.
Telework can therefore :
contribute to organizational change
redefine the way human resource managers manage employees' work
From the employer's perspective, the flexibility brought about by telecommuting can attract new employees and retain existing ones, improving morale and increasing productivity.
Bailey and Kurland highlighted the positive outcomes in the benefits of telecommuting, including improved productivity, company loyalty, personal satisfaction and attraction of new employees.
A number of organizational issues arise for virtual teams, such as:
selecting the right managers and employees for successful remote teamwork
managing communication and trust, measuring the productivity of invisible employees
Determining what types of work can be done remotely.
Executives need to analyze different flexible work practices to improve organization and performance, and thus develop the full potential of telecommuting.
Telecommuting changes the physical environment around the worker, and potentially the equipment, tools, and resources used to perform the work (Sardeshmukh et al., 2012).
Appropriate training provided by the company would allow the teleworker to gain a prior understanding of the technological tools as well as an effective implementation of telework, with less time lost on technical issues.
Telework changes the nature of employee interactions
Much research indicates that periodic face-to-face contact is necessary for virtual teams to become successful teams (Armstrong & Cole, 1995).
Face-to-face time also facilitates the negotiation of norms and roles, as well as the development of interpersonal trust based on character and skill assessment.
It may be important to schedule meetings prior to implementing telecommuting so that team members can become familiar with each other.
Once the team is telecommuting, a virtual team leader should make sure to schedule white space during meetings to allow time for more personal and informal discussions.
Creating spatial, temporal and psychological boundaries
According to boundary theory (Ashforth, Kreiner & Fugate, 2000), "individuals create and maintain boundaries as a means of simplifying and ordering the environment.
Telecommuting changes the traditional boundaries between work and home life. Without contextual boundaries and cues, there is more conflict between roles (Raghuram & Wiesenfeld, 2004), which leads to often undesirable consequences.
Telecommuting leads to the elimination of commuting. This elimination of the physical boundary can lead telecommuters to work longer hours, especially during the time saved by avoiding commuting hours. These extra work hours can lead to feelings of work overload and increased work anxiety.
In addition, according to Ashforth, the commute to work can represent a role transition from non-work role (parent, spouse, etc.) to work role for many employees.
The creation of a physical space dedicated to work within the home will thus allow for the psychological delineation of the two life domains. This physical space will be associated with work-specific behaviors, rules and rituals that will put the teleworker in a work atmosphere, similar to going to the office.
Teleworkers mentioned that adapting a physical home office environment is one way to overcome the challenges of telecommuting. At home, a dedicated work space can also discourage solicitations from others and leave the telecommuter focused. Making a concerted effort with family and friends to minimize distractions and interruptions reduces interference with work.
Many teleworkers choose this work arrangement to reduce the tension between work and family and report satisfaction with the outcome (Bailyn, 1989).
Ahrentzen (1990) found that telecommuters had no more role overlap than office workers. Temporal boundaries mark the beginning and end of the workday and impose breaks that can occur during the workday (Mustafa & Gold, 2013).
Changing these boundaries alters the amount of time employees are available to their families and/or co-workers. Mustafa and Gold (2013) found that while many male self-employed telecommuters chose to structure their time boundaries to be consistent with the traditional office work schedule, women tended to structure their time boundaries around the needs of their children and home.
An altered work schedule can have a negative effect on coordination and collaboration with colleagues. In addition to this, teleworkers are sometimes perceived as less accessible because they use technology to correspond with colleagues.
Planning and self-management skills are essential in telecommuting, such as setting goals, anticipating time slots and structuring the workday.
Rigorous time management is essential for the teleworker to feel effective. It is important to allow time for work and time for everything else.
Time limitation is linked to physical limitation: after the working day, it is necessary to disconnect so as not to have to receive alerts, e-mails and professional calls and to finish the working day as if one was physically leaving the place.
In terms of time organization, it is important to keep real breaks during the working day to maximize the efficiency of the teleworker. Indeed, coffee breaks are skipped, solicitations by colleagues are reduced.
In order to maintain maximum productivity and concentration, real breaks are essential. By working from home, the teleworker can take advantage of his living environment to make these moments more beneficial and efficient (by practicing a physical activity for example).
Finally, it is essential to put in place appropriate follow-up by a doctor or an occupational psychologist. The company should offer an adapted listening service to allow its employees to keep their physical and mental health, motivation and productivity.
This applies mainly during the transition to telework, but also afterwards. Early detection of a possible negative impact of telework or the development of an anxiety or depressive disorder allows for effective management and readjustment of work organizations.
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