Teleworking: how to tell that it will work for you

Teleworking means you can adjust work hours to suit yourself. It's only effective though if you are motivated and disciplined. (Photograph of teleworking failure by Penny Haw.)

DO you find, as I do, that when you attempt to contact people at their companies you’re increasingly told they are, “Working from home today”? Indeed, more and more people work from home for their companies these days. There is however, some debate about whether this career path is suited to everyone.

Teleworker is the term used to describe an employee who works somewhere other than a central office or company branch. Unlike mobile workers, they have one established place of work away from the company. Often, this is a home office. While some people telework on a permanent basis, others elect to work from home to complete specific projects or for a couple of days each week.

Many organisations believe that allowing employees to work from home helps make the company leaner and meaner. They reason that:

• The increase in costs for PCs, modems, additional lines and printers can be offset against savings in office space, administrative support and transport costs.
• Teleworking saves time because employees are not required to travel and have immediate access to equipment and systems.
• The costs for on-site security, furniture, power supplies and other services are reduced.
• It allows for increased flexibility in paid working hours.

These companies claim that, by offering teleworking options, they can provide a better work-life balance for their people. The system also gives them access to talented employees who are not willing to relocate or commute. However, while employer benefits appear evident, career specialists say that, for employees, the advantages are less certain.

Some people believe that they are much more efficient working from home. They appreciate the fact that they do not have to deal with endless meetings and office politics or spend hours in the traffic each day. Successful teleworkers like to work on their own terms when they want to. They are generally motivated and well disciplined. These people appreciate the flexibility they have to design their workday, be available to their families, wear whatever they want to and avoid office time-wasters.

Others, though, find that they do not like working alone and are disturbed by the lack of division between professional and personal space. They miss the structure and energy of an office environment and find it hard to discipline themselves. Some teleworkers experience an increase in pressure because they have difficulty managing time and are unaccustomed to making decisions alone. Many are nervous about being out of the loop and feel marginalised.

According to career expert, Dr Barbara Moses many of the challenges confronting teleworkers are the same as those faced by part-time workers: “For example, they feel disconnected from the group and worry about possible loss of career opportunities. “Out of sight, out of mind”, as the saying goes, so how are you going to be noticed, it you are not there to be noticed?”

People come together not only to offer or provide service or to make products, but also to be part of a successful team and to be associated with an efficient organisation. In the process of forming teams, individuals also form alliances and relationships, and generally provide support to one another. Teleworking removes individuals from this network and for many, this makes them feel alone and isolated. Some teleworkers feel trapped, unable to escape work and with no home to retreat to.

Moses says that teleworking can be particularly challenging if you are part of a virtual team – a group of geographically dispersed people working together. She believes that virtual teams only work effectively if people can actually see each other periodically on some basis.

“So much of what we communicate is done visually through body language and facial expression. E-mail, and to some extent the same is true of telephone conversation, does not encourage give and take, nor does it provide the same kinds of opportunities to pick up on nuances that contribute to being able to influence others. That is why it is necessary to maintain and promote the human connection.”

According to Moses, if you are thinking of teleworking, you need the right skills, supports and work. Knowledge work that does not require extensive interpersonal interaction with clients and team members, such as financial analysis, designing training programmes, editing and writing, lends itself well to this system of work. However, if your work requires “here or now” information or the influence of others by reading nuances and cues, teleworking may not be an appropriate route. In this case, you might consider occasional teleworking to catch up, plan or complete a project without office interruptions.

Strategies for teleworking
• Ensure that your job is suited to working alone.
• Assess your own qualities and abilities realistically.
• Create a dedicated workspace in your home.
• Set boundaries and be vigilant in enforcing them.
• Establish procedures for regular office communication.

(This article was first published in Business Day.)

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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