10 Ways to Kill (or Heal) a Telecommuting or Virtual Work Initiative

Laptop rope pullingWhether it is caused by flooding in Alberta, snowstorms in Washington D.C., or fires in California, the need for clear continuity of operations plans (COOP) has brought renewed emphasis on telework and virtual working. Unfortunately, too many organizations jump into telework without a clear understanding of what is necessary for a successful telecommuting initiative.

Here are ten blunders organizations typically make when implementing telework.

  1. Let everyone telework. Employees who are effective teleworkers have strong organizational skills, self-discipline, and comfort with a lack of frequent social interaction. Select good or great performers with the right skills and attitudes to ensure success
  2. Provide no orientation to life in a virtual office—assume they’ll figure it out. Working virtually requires clear agreements on how and when communication happens and how to keep aligned to goals and motivated by the “esprit de corps” necessary for true teamwork.
  3. Provide inadequate technology support. Make sure teleworkers can conduct basic troubleshooting of their own system, and ensure quality IT support is available when needed. Continually monitor issues such as bandwidth and ease of access to systems.
  4. Assume your managers know how to lead virtually. Many leadership practices we have learned work only in a face-to-face setting. Leading people you don’t see requires a more sophisticated level of leadership—new skills are needed.
  5. Have no structure to ensure collaboration and team spirit. One day every week or two should be set aside when everyone needs to be on site to enable collaboration, the sharing of best practices, and good old-fashioned face time. Though we often are not aware of its importance, the informal team building that happens naturally when people work together needs to become a priority now.
  6. Insist on frequent conference calls to share information. Conference calls are for collaboration, decision making and involvement. One-way communication in conference calls interrupts real work and leads to multi-tasking and disengagement.
  7. Hold meetings where some are in the room and some are calling in. These types of meetings increase disengagement and feelings of isolation. If you must have these meetings, use our tips from previous blogs: 3 Ways to Put Life Into Deadly Virtual Team Meetings4 Tips to Make Your Next Virtual Meeting More Compelling, to maximize their effectiveness.
  8. Have no plan for monitoring performance or recognizing effort. Rewrite your performance measures so you monitor results instead of activity. Although this can be a challenge, everyone benefits when accomplishments are clear and recognized.
  9. Promote people based on visibility. This is a secret, and often valid, fear of many who agree to telework. Individuals who are seen in the hallway often are selected for special projects, recognition, and promotion. Make sure visibility happens for work results, not just for showing up on site.
  10. Implement it and forget it. Telework, whether routine or in response to a crisis, is a change for leaders, workers, IT departments, and customers. Continuously monitor how well it is working for all stakeholders, and build in strategies to both recognize success and improve processes.

Work is what we do, not where we sit. If implemented effectively, telework can empower employees, increase innovation, improve customer service, and save money and time for everyone. Use this list to ensure your effort succeeds in every way.

About the author

Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Her posts on increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world appear on the fourth Monday of every month.

7 thoughts on “10 Ways to Kill (or Heal) a Telecommuting or Virtual Work Initiative

  1. Thanks for the great post Carmela. I’ve got to do a paper on introducing homeworking for some of my team and was wondering where I would start. Now I can just run through your points as the basis of building a proposal which I can put to my boss for approval.
    Can you recommend any posts or resources which give information on how to lead virtually?

  2. Hi Helen, Many of us learned these lessons through trial and error – so I am happy that you can use those lessons. It makes us feel our pain was worthwhile!

    In the last couple of years much has been written about virtual teams, but the 1-1 leadership aspect hasn’t had as much work. I like Karen Sobel Lojeski’s book on Leading the Virtual Workforce, and Kimball and Mareen Fisher’s The Distance Manager. I have a couple of blog posts you might find helpful as well.


    Later you might want to consider our Leading Virtually course. Keep me posted on how it goes for you.


  3. Pingback: 10 Ways to Kill (or Heal) a Telecommuting or Virtual Work Initiative | kwalitisme

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