By Dr. Marisa Bryant
Faculty Member, School of Security and Global Studies
Since the health and economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have introduced telework to many of their employees on a larger scale than ever before. Telework is an alternative or a flexible work arrangement that allows an employee to work from a remote location, usually from home, instead of commuting to a fixed location during working hours, according to business expert James Gerald Caillier. Since telework may remain a permanent fixture and option for the future work environment, it is important to understand whether its use and application within an organization really improves productivity.
Incorporating Telework into an Organization
Even with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, some organizations remain hesitant or skeptical about implementing telework policies and programs. Oftentimes, the single biggest barrier and impediment to teleworking is management resistance. Before implementing a formal telework policy, the employer should clarify which positions and types of employees are eligible to participate in telework.
For instance, if an employee has had a history of poor performance or poor attendance or has not passed a probationary period, that employee may not be suited for an alternative work schedule. For those employers who believe that employees who are “out of sight” are “out of mind” and cannot be managed, they can remedy this concern by clearly communicating managerial expectations and tasks.
There are several new technologies that can be used to facilitate meetings and taskers to keep an eye on what employees are doing; the key is communication. For example, every employee should have access to broadband/high-speed internet. Through the internet, employees can download free messaging and video teleconferencing applications, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
In addition, managers can invest in software applications that can allow for electronic document management, requiring less use of papers and the ability to share documents and information in one location. Then there is the ability to “track” employees by automating basic HR functions including payroll, training, and time and attendance. Managers who are worried about reduced employee productivity can use management tools, such as Trello, Asana, and CoSpace for all their project management tracking needs.
Finally, every individual within the organization who requests an alternative work schedule should receive training by the human resource department on how to manage individuals on a non-traditional work schedule. Training should include but not be limited to:
- Assessing the eligibility of employees
- Managing the technology used including systems and applications
- Defining tasks and performance targets
Employers can implement flexible work schedules or an alternating work schedule as needed. For example, Group A could telework Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays during Week 1 and 3 of every month, and Group B could telework during the remaining days and weeks. This way, every individual knows when he or she should report to the office to work on-site or to telework from home.
Telework Benefits Both Employees and Organizations
The benefits of telework are widespread and can yield positive outcomes in terms of organization and the employees. According to Telework!VA, employee productivity through teleworking can be increased by 22%.
In addition, employees have been shown to be more effective when they telework from home. In fact, of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” list published by Fortune Magazine in 2019, over 80% of the companies allow their employees to telework.
On an organizational level, the advantages are also clear. There is less turnover, less absenteeism, less uninterrupted work, and more business continuity in the event of inclement weather or a crisis such as a worldwide pandemic.
A good example of the government’s use of telework during a disaster was during the Loma Prieta earthquake, which shook San Francisco in 1989. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Telework Coalition conducted a study showing how an organization used telework as part of its continuity of operations plan. Employees evacuated on Sunday were already back at work (remotely) by Monday morning.
In a study conducted by Stanford University, teleworking led to an increase in performance by 13%. These same workers also reported higher motivation and work satisfaction.
The statistics on an increase in productivity due to telework do not end there. A study by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) on telework found that when organizations plan and successfully implement a telework program, it can produce positive benefits for the employer and employee. Employees who can telework have higher work satisfaction and are more efficient.
Similarly, a study conducted by German organizations concluded that remote employees were more efficient and displayed more intensive worker effort. In two other separate studies conducted in Hungary and Holland, organizations who implemented telework found their employees to be more satisfied and more productive.
Teleworking Is Useful, but May Not Be Suitable for All Organizations
The bottom line is that requiring people to continue to drive to an office, punch a clock and work traditional work hours is an outdated work tradition. However, while many employees would love to remain in their pajamas and continue to earn a living, telework should remain an option and not the standard. For some individuals, it is essential to share the same physical space to increase innovation.
Employers should also keep in mind that the workforce has five different generations of workers with different values and preferences. Some employees need in-person interaction with other human beings without the manipulation or interference from technology.
Technology and the pandemic have caused many organizations to rethink their ability to attract and retain the most talented individuals. Telework is in, and it’s here to stay.
In the midst of the ongoing pandemic crisis, the trend allowing employees to work from home is going to increase. Even with the negative myths and misconceptions about telework, a well developed and implemented telework policy will benefit organizations and employees.
About the Author
Dr. Marisa Bryant is a lifelong learner and educator who has taught in the military and the civilian sectors for over 20 years. Upon retirement from the Marine Corps in 2015, she was hired as the Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist and Disability Program Manager for the Marine Corps Installations Pacific at Okinawa, Japan.
Dr. Bryant is an adjunct professor in the School of Security and Global Studies, where she teaches courses in homeland security. She also serves as Adjunct Faculty at Arizona State University, Global Campus; Colorado State University-Global Campus; Upper Iowa University; Claremont Lincoln University; and Walden University, teaching courses in homeland security, emergency management, criminal justice, public administration, and human resource management. Her research interests include studying human resource and workplace topics such as harassment policies, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, civil liberties and civil rights, and homeland security.