Friday, February 22, 2008

Keeping Telecommuting Alive

The longer I observe telecommuting programs (and also because of my own experiences with doing it) the more I notice this trend: they can be extremely vulnerable to management personnel changes. Sure, maybe your manager understands that seeing people in the office isn't necessarily the same as watching them get work done, but if she gets a new job somewhere else, the next person may not be so forward thinking. Suddenly you find yourself sitting in a cubicle wearing pantyhose, and asking yourself, "What just happened?" On a grander scale, the move by companies like AT&T and Intel to round up their telecommuters as part of a management effort to streamline and save money is an example of this vulnerability.

Of course, you, the telecommuting cog in the machine, may not have much control over this. But I think that every telecommuter must try his or her best to advance the overall cause of remote work at their employer. It's one of those hidden job duties that comes along with wearing slippers: yes, in addition to being the preemptive strike telephone call specialist, the IM client set-up guru, and the getting-the-videoconferencing-through-the-firewall wizard, you must also become the telecommuting evangelist. Moreover, you must get your manager to start infecting those around her, as well.

The two of you have to work with whoever puts together the management training stuff at your company to make sure there is a "Managing Telecommuters" class that is required for everyone who is a "manager" or is training to be one. That class should include first hand experiences at your company (like yours, and any others you can dig up).

Maybe you've had my favorite telecommuting moment: You've finished your first big project with someone new and he wants to get together with you for a celebratory lunch, except you're 2,000 miles away. After your colleague or client gets over being amazed with how he didn't even realize that you might have been wearing slippers the whole time you were working together, suggest that he mention how great and seamlessly the telecommuting program worked in his project update to his manager. And they'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on.

Take a look at your org chart and see if you can target managers in departments full of people who are seemingly a good fit for telecommuting. Take them out to lunch when you're on site, or make your manager do it, and talk about how telecommuting really isn't that bad. In fact, it's good.

I know it's tempting to try and keep your telecommuting arrangement a secret for fear of drawing too much attention to what you're up to. Maybe management is worried that everyone will want to do it if you promote it too vigorously. Whatever, I really think you have to get the word out and show the whole company that it's working. Having lots of powerful people in your organization who believe in people's abilities to get things done irrespective of where their computers are located is important to sustaining telecommuting programs. Seriously.

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