For Supervisors and Employees Establishing Teleworking Arrangements
Teleworking is a work arrangement in which some or all of the work is performed from home or another off-site location. In general, regular office hours are worked and deviations from that schedule require supervisor approval.
Jobs that require in-person contact/customer service or that rely on specific equipment or supplies at the work site are difficult to transition to telework arrangements. Leadership and/or supervisory roles also generally may be excluded from consideration for telework arrangements unless a department finds such an arrangement practical in meeting job responsibilities. Some jobs that may not seem appropriate at first may be modified so that employees can telework.
When clearly outlined and executed, teleworking can prove beneficial to both employees and supervisors. Supervisors should articulate clear procedures regarding check-in times and hours of availability. With proper planning, communication problems can be minimized. Indeed, well-planned flexible work arrangements sometimes enable departments to extend their service hours, and to make more effective use of space and equipment.
Tips for supervisors establishing telework arrangements for employees
Teleworking functions best when employees and supervisors clearly communicate expectations. The following checklist will help you establish a foundation for effective teamwork, continued productivity and service to WSU stakeholders.
Review technology needs and resources
Identify technology tools staff use in their daily work and determine whether the resources will be accessible when working from home. Ensure employees know how to access technical support staff should they need assistance.
- Ensure employees know how to set up call forwarding, as needed, and how to take Skype and zoom calls from a remote location. In addition to their computer, employees may need a headset or other Skype-enabled device.
- Determine which platform(s) you will use to communicate as a team. Clarify expectations for online availability and confirm everyone has access to the technology tool(s) and support resources. WSU employees have free access to Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Teams.
Review work schedules
Teleworking sometimes get confused with flex work. Be clear about your expectations with employees for maintaining their current work schedule or if you are open to flexible scheduling based on employee needs.
Draft a work plan
Review the questions below with staff and work through answers together.
- What routine responsibilities/tasks cannot be fulfilled while working remotely and how will it impact operations or other people? What are ways to reduce the impacts?
- What routine responsibilities/tasks require regular communication and collaboration with others? Proactively contact each partner to confirm how you will communicate while employees are working remotely.
- Often employees experience fewer interruptions while teleworking. Are there any special projects or tasks that you can advance more quickly while working remotely?
- What events or meetings are scheduled during the time in which the temporary teleworking arrangement is in place? Will they be postponed or canceled, or will they take place using technology? What follow-up needs to occur due to postponements or cancellations?
Make a communication and accountability plan
Supervisors should tell employees how often they should send updates on work plan progress and what those updates should include. Supervisors should also communicate how quickly they expect the employee to respond while teleworking and the best ways for the employee to contact the supervisor while working remotely.
- If you normally make daily rounds to visit employees at their desks, you can give them a call during this period. Maintain team meetings and one-to-one check-ins, altering the schedule if needed to accommodate any alternative schedules that have been approved.
- Conduct regular check-ins. Start each workday with a phone, video or instant message chat. Your employees will be eager for connection and information while teleworking and the structure will help everyone create a positive routine. Every other day or weekly check ins may be fine, so long as you are in contact frequently enough that your employees are in sync with you and/or with one another.
A positive attitude toward teleworking and a willingness to trust employees to telework effectively is key to making such arrangements successful and productive. Teleworking presents an opportunity for leaders to become better supervisors. Instead of focusing on how many hours your employees are working, re-emphasize a focus on measuring results and reaching objectives—regardless of work arrangement. The employee’s completed work product is the indicator of success, rather than direct observation. By focusing on the employee’s work product, supervisors with remote employees will improve their organizational abilities and their own skill in managing by objectives.
Debrief after normal operations resume. When work returns to normal, employees and supervisors should review work plans, assess progress on the employee’s work plan and prioritize any unresolved or new work that resulted from temporary operational changes.
Tips for employees teleworking
Employees who telework often learn that working remotely is different than they expected and that it requires specific skills and habits. The following tips will help you work effectively while at home.
Define your workspace
It can be easy to sit on the sofa with your laptop and expect to get work done. Experienced teleworkers will tell you they tried that and it simply doesn’t work. We are creatures of habit and most of us are used to lounging with our laptops to read the news, watch TV, play games and chat with friends and family. Establishing a workspace, even if it is your kitchen table, gives your brain a cue that it is time for work and not play.
Master the basics
Make the necessary preparations for teleworking:
- Add your teleworking schedule to your email signature line.
- Set up call forwarding where appropriate, or use Skype.
- Know how to log in remotely to the WSU network and how to access the tools you regularly use.
- Use Skype, Teams or another instant messaging client to stay connected to colleagues.
- Plan for a video calls/meetings by making sure you know how to turn on your computer’s camera and microphone, or use a headset. Be aware that participants may be able to see the background behind you on video calls/meetings.
Set daily goals, track them and share your progress
You may be surprised by how differently the work day passes without the comings and goings of an office to break things up or influence what you do next. Start each day of teleworking by writing down what you need to achieve and then track your progress. Pay attention to how long tasks take you and start adjusting your daily goals to match your current rhythm. Communicate with your supervisor and/or colleagues if you think your telework plan needs to be adjusted.
Teleworking can mean pets, children or a favorite hobby are only a few feet away. Depending on your living arrangement, you may need to hang a “do not disturb” sign so family members won’t interrupt you. Pets often need a closed door to keep them away, and you might need headphones to block noisy distractions.
Whether you are in your home or a common area, take five minutes to assess the privacy of your workspace. Can someone standing behind you read your computer screen? Be aware of confidential/sensitive data you may be accessing, and don’t download that type of data to personal devices. Are your windows open so your neighbor can hear your phone call? What information do you need to secure before grabbing a cup of coffee or heading to the restroom? Your personal privacy matters too, so see if there is anything around you that you would not want visible during a video conference with your supervisor or others.
Many people say they do not call or instant message colleagues who are working remotely because they don’t want to bother them. Remember, they are working, not vacationing at home. You should feel confident about calling or messaging an employee who is teleworking anytime you would walk to their office or call them if they were working on-site. You can even keep your daily coffee run, simply plan to call or video chat with a cup in hand at the time your crew would normally walk to your favorite espresso cart.
Dress for work
Just like sitting on the couch can make you feel a little too relaxed, wearing pajamas all day makes it hard to get into work mode. Dressing casually is definitely a perk of working at home but getting “ready for work” is a daily ritual that many teleworkers swear by.
Tips for departments with widespread telework
If many teams quickly move to teleworking, departments may want to consider the following suggestions:
Designate a telework task force
Depending on the size of your department, consider implementing a task force to manage telework protocols and procedures for your department.
Engage your team
Setting up a group to work remotely is different than setting up an individual employee to telework. Effective remote teamwork requires entire department to embrace technology and proactive communication in ways that may be new and challenging to traditional ways of working. Support the success of your team by:
- Scheduling a conversation about what it would look like for your team to go remote.
- Identify needs and tool preferences of team members for remote work.
- Document and share telework practices/plans.
Enable and encourage ongoing communication
Ongoing communication is the most important part of effective remote teamwork. Working online can be isolating without regular contact with supervisors and colleagues. By creating the expectation that an entire team will communicate regularly with one another, members will feel connected regardless of where they are.