To Telework or Not to Telework

Every year has its HR controversies, and this year, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer hit the 2013 controversy home-run with her memo that “banned telework.”

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side”.

Since February, the collaboration controversy raged. How will other major organizations respond? This month Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Valley’s flextime pioneer (1972) spoke:

“During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck… We now need to build a stronger culture of engagement and collaboration and the more employees we get into the office the better company we will be.”

At the same time, the Federal Government’s Telework program is exploding. Says key proponent, General Services Administrator Daniel Tangherlini:

“I am betting that our employees will get more done if they are at home — or anywhere outside of the office for that matter — more often.”

Thinking of starting, refreshing, expanding or pulling back telework? The question has to be asked: What’s the best way to build collaboration, communication and innovation?

Our considerable experience tells us: Location does not automatically enable or eliminate collaboration. Working together effectively and creatively requires specific skills, habits and practices. Being in the same office or the same “virtual space” created by online collaboration tools will only take managers and employees so far.

Mutual Respect Skills

What are the standards and skills required for managers and employees to maximize their work together? We call them the Mutual Respect Skills:

  1. We suspend assumptions — Strong innovation and communication depend on openness to new and uncomfortable ideas
  2. We always pay attention — Distractions in or out of the office are deadly to collaboration; too many tools can end up challenging focus
  3. We listen attentively & speak directly — Sounds simple, but these most essential and challenging practices are rare onsite and off
  4. We delegate and develop fully — Defining work is not an annual event; clear and constantly evolving priorities must be embraced by all parties
  5. We provide feedback consistently — Offsite work demands more and better constructive, corrective and directional feedback from challenged managers
  6. We resolve conflicts respectfully — True innovation and intensive collaboration always risk conflicts; comfort in managing them strengthens teams
  7. We do what we promise — Integrity is the backbone of collaboration and in an office or on a conference call, all sensors are keenly aware of follow-through
But What About Telework?

While the debate goes on about whether telework is good or bad or requires the same or slightly beefed up employee and management skills, superior telework initiatives recognize that new ways of working require… distinctly new work skills. Only intensive training can address and reverse the powerful, existing habits that defined traditional ways of working.

To move from seldomly providing feedback to regularly doing so, or from being distracted to paying attention, does not happen in a half-hour webinar. Building collaboration through telework depends on committing to the cultivation of Mutual Respect standards and skills. Failing to do so will rob telework of its full potential — and risk everyone being recalled to a 20th century workplace.


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