4 best practices for managing the mobile office
Cindy Auten of the Telework Exchange says teleworkers can benefit from more disciplined management practices
As strange as it sounds, enterprise mobile initiatives eventually could improve the management of the federal workforce.
That’s not because of the technology itself. It’s just that managing teleworkers compels managers to renew their focus on tried-and-true management practices, said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange, a public/private partnership focused on telework and mobility in the federal community.
Here are Auten’s four best practices for managing a mobile office that could pay off for managers and employees alike, no matter where they work.
1. Learn to trust.
The prospect for a successful telework program always begins — and sometimes ends — with the question of trust.
Does a federal manager trust his or her employees to be productive when they are not in the office? If the answer is no, the program is not likely to be successful — and that manager has bigger problems to address.
The fact is that an employee who would not be productive working remotely probably is not being productive right now. Telework exposes those problems by emphasizing output rather than attendance.
“It’s forcing a conversation that should have been happening,” Auten said.
On the other hand, the focus on output will be welcomed by others who would like to be recognized for the work they do, she said.
2. Communicate with intention.
When everyone is in the office, managers don’t even need to think about how to communicate with their employees. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
When conversations are happening opportunistically, managers might not be giving thought to what and how they are communicating. It’s easy for messages to get missed or muddled. The dynamics are different when employees are not in the office.
“I can’t see them, so I am more focused on making sure my e-mail communications and phone communications are up to par,” Auten said. “It really does make managers very focused on how they are managing their employees.”
And, of course, many employees are often mobile anyway, checking their e-mail on their smart phones while attending meetings elsewhere in the building, for example. So clear and concise communications are always a good idea, Auten said.
3. Define measures upfront.
If an employee is not in the office, how can a manager tell if he or she is working? That’s always a challenge with knowledge workers, whose daily work often is not quantifiable. But quantity is not the only measure of productivity.
For example, are employees meeting their deadlines? Are they working within their budgets? Are they responding to e-mail and phone messages in a timely manner? Can they juggle multiple tasks?
Gauging performance against such measures is not easy because they can’t always be assessed with a calculator. Nonetheless, such criteria provide both the manager and the employees with a good sense of how telework is working. The key is to spell out the criteria at the beginning and provide regular feedback along the way, Auten said.
4. Hold employees accountable.
If you think about accountability in terms of punishment, you are missing the point.
Yes, when a poor-performing employee is denied permission to telework, it can feel like punishment. But accountability should be seen as a process, not an end result.
If viable performance measures have been defined upfront, they should serve as the starting point for an ongoing conversation between the manager and the employee, which provides the opportunity to address problems as they arise.
Auten recommends weekly check-ins, especially at the beginning of a telework program. She points out that the conversations will help managers get to know their employees better. When you’re talking on a weekly basis, “you really start to understand where [employees] are coming from,” she said.