Telework: The “Just Right” Solution to New Types of Workspaces
When it comes to office space these days, a lot of people are feeling like Goldilocks. For some moving to an open concept environment, all that space to collaborate is just a little too open and too distracting, but others feel like the walls of their cubicles are receding inch by inch in traditional spaces that are too small and too isolating. You may not have much influence when it comes to your workplace design, but many have access to what can be a “just right” solution to balance your need to be productive and collaborative: Telework.
Consolidate to Collaborate? Maybe…
GSA is assisting high profile agencies like DHS and HHS to consolidate their real estate holdings across the U.S. to reduce costs and create operational efficiencies. Part of this effort includes taking different approaches to building out workspaces, not only to make more efficient use of limited space, but also to acknowledge that how we interact day-to-day with our colleagues must evolve. The pace of change and volume of decisions we experience daily requires us to be connected to our teams and maintain open channels of communication. New workspaces can facilitate that connectedness, but they also have implications we cannot ignore.
As some Federal organizations prepare to box up their belongings and transition to new work environments in smaller, government-owned buildings, they are learning the move will include more options to telework. In some cases, it’s no longer a choice but now a necessity because of space constraints. To many this is very welcome news, but not all.
While space may be less of an issue for those moving to state-of-the-art open plan offices, you may find the lack of personal space leaves you feeling more stressed, vulnerable, and less productive. The jury is still out on whether open concept plans deliver on their promise to improve performance, boost productivity, and foster innovation.
Striking a Balance
If you find yourself on the move to a new workspace and feeling reticent, telework can provide the crucial balance you need to adapt and continue to be successful in your role. Consider the following questions as you think about how telework could help you improve your personal work situation or help you more effectively lead your employees in a new environment:
- Are you an extrovert who is energized by constant social interaction in the office?
- Do you lead a team of introverts who are easily derailed by constant interruptions?
- Is your team centrally located or spread out across several locations?
- Do you or your team currently interact or share information using technology such as virtual meetings, instant messaging, video chats, file sharing, etc.?
- Are you intrinsically motivated to get your work done or do you perform better when surrounded by your colleagues?
- How often does your work require intense concentration to write or create?
- What is your organization’s policy on telework?
Telework can take many forms and, in order for you or your team to be successful, you have to consider personality, team or interpersonal, productivity, and performance factors. Chances are every member of your team has different work preferences and telework is only valuable when it is structured to allow you to do your best work…but doesn’t prevent your teammates from doing theirs as well.
I have teleworked for nearly nine years with great success, but I’ll be the first to admit it takes consistent effort on my part, as well as support from my employees, my teammates, and those in key leadership positions at Management Concepts. Throughout my career I’ve managed fellow teleworkers as well as those who work from our headquarters, and here are a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way:
Take it seriously and make a plan: As you look to telework to compliment your office situation, it is very important to take it seriously and work with your supervisor to formalize a plan. Some organizations require formal plans while others do not; inquire about the policy in your organization as a first step. Once you have a plan in place, don’t let it collect dust. If the terms of your plan aren’t working for you—or others are finding it difficult to work within your plan—revisit it and make changes.
Make yourself available but set boundaries: Miscommunication or incorrect assumptions are most often made when you do not set expectations for the telework arrangement at the outset. Be clear about how and when you will communicate when working remotely, but set boundaries so you can tune out distractions and make the most of your time. One of the distinct advantages about telework is giving you the space to do work that requires critical thinking with less interruption; however, you should be intentional about connecting with those in the office to ensure other work can continue.
Setting boundaries also includes making sure you are teleworking for the right reasons and using the time appropriately. Telework should improve work-life fit, but isn’t synonymous for taking the day off for personal business. Your teammates and supervisor will support your desire to telework more when they see the results in your work.
If you telework routinely, don’t forget to sign off when you wrap up the day, too. It’s the equivalent of your commute home and some find it hard to shut down when you don’t have to physically leave your office.
Use technology to connect and maintain momentum: We do business on smartphones and tablets while on the move every day, but when you plan to work remotely for several hours or an entire day, you’ll likely need other technology to keep projects moving forward. First and foremost, make sure you have remote access to any critical systems before teleworking. Also, find out what access you have to virtual meeting tools that allow you to video chat or collaborate on a virtual whiteboard, for example. A teleconference may be sufficient for most needs, but it depends on how consistently you telework and the type of work your role entails.
Develop telework communication skills: Even though we communicate over email or instant messaging systems when we’re in the office, somehow messages can take on different meanings when you work remotely. Be cognizant of your word choices and tone. It may seem like a pretty obvious tip but misunderstood messages are the root of most conflict that occurs while teleworking. If you have a difficult or sensitive issue to deal with, pick up the phone, set up a video chat, or, if possible, wait to tackle the situation when you are back in the office. And, if you find yourself having persistent communication challenges while working, don’t ignore it. Talk to your team members and/or supervisor and find out what’s at the root.
Coordinate office schedules: If you and your teammates routinely telework, try to coordinate your schedules so a portion of your time in the office overlaps. Not only does this allow you to work together on projects that may be less conducive to teleworking, but it also allows you to focus on more independent work while you work remotely.
For those of you telework gurus out there, what other tips do you have to share? We’d love to hear how telework is working for you.