I want to follow the example of colleagues and friends who in recent days have addressed the issue of the telework. Teleworking is a great alternative to keep us productive during this and other periods of crisis. Social distancing" and "quarantine" are responsible responses to the crisis generated by COVID-19. This article is a starting point to begin practicing the telework. It also includes practical advice on the teleworking exercise itself, useful for all those who seek higher performance.
What is teleworking?
It is a "way of working". Teleworking implies that the work is performed from a remote location and different facilities defined for that purpose. That is, the worker is physically away from colleagues and uses information and communication technologies (ICT) to stay productive. [Wikipedia][International Labour Organization]
Why is teleworking so important?
According to United Nationstelework is a key enabler for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. To be more precise, the use of ICTs at work. However, it is a mistake to assume that the implementation of telework alone will always have good results. We must understand that telework requires, like many large-scale human interactions, clear rules. Discipline and respect from all parties involved is fundamental to its success. Businesses, workers, governments and multilateral bodies are responsible for good implementation/adoption.
For John C. Messenger - in his book Telework in the 21st Century. An Evolutionary Perspective, we could speak of three generations of telework.
- First generation of telework: Home office.
- Second generation teleworking: Mobile office.
- Third generation teleworking: Virtual Office.
First generation of telework: Home Office.
The main focus of this generation is to reduce travel time (commuting). Commuting is one of the biggest challenges of metropolises. The challenges associated with public transport, mass movement of people and pollution are elements that telework is trying to address.
Second generation teleworking: Mobile Office.
The second generation is an evolution that is difficult to distinguish from the first. With the increase in computing power and the tools available on mobile devices, we are adopting new work practices. Laptops, smartphones and tablets are tools that allow us to stay connected all the time. Unlike the Home OfficeIn the mobile office, the mobile office worker could work from anywhere.
Third generation teleworking: Virtual Office.
The first two generations refer to traditional workers, so to speak. Their general aim was to simplify office or "on-site" work. Teleworking was, until then, an extension of traditional office work. Now we face a different situation. Work teams may never have visited an office. These teams may only know each other remotely or even only know each other's voices. Of course, this means that the very concept of the office is evolving. We now have a virtual organisation, i.e. one that does not exist in the real world. There are examples worth studying such as GitLab o Zapier.
Advantages of teleworking
We could go on and on about the benefits of teleworking. However, the benefits of something only come if it is done correctly. Teleworking then brings indisputable benefits to workers, companies and society in general, if it is implemented correctly.
Advantages of teleworking at a personal level
- Greater autonomy, flexibility and mobility. For knowledge and information workers, these factors are productivity and motivation enhancers.
- More personal and family time. By eliminating commutation times, more free time or time for personal use is available. Remember that in some densely populated or dense cities, this time can exceed 2 hours a day.
- The ability to choose or "assemble" your own very personal workspace.
To speak of other benefits such as "less stress" would be to anticipate benefits that are difficult to validate. However, we could include among them:
- Less stress by driving less or avoiding the crowds of mass public transportation.
- Improved health by reducing exposure to traffic and combustion-related pollution.
Advantages of teleworking at a professional and productive level
We must also consider advantages for people at a professional level, and for companies at a productive level.
- Access to global market. Telework offers more and better opportunities globally. But let's remember that this is a double-edged sword. A teleworker competes globally or regionally. For example, someone in Colombia can compete for jobs in the United States or Canada - as long as he or she is fluent in the language. Companies, on the other hand, can access specialized talent in remote locations.
- Increased work productivity. This benefit depends a lot on the worker's discipline and ability to concentrate. Likewise, it is a challenge for companies, because they must improve their processes to incorporate remote workers.
- Reduction of absenteeism. The possibility of managing flexible hours allows, among many things, to solve personal issues without affecting work productivity. Carrying out activities such as going to the doctor or attending the children's school means being absent from work. Teleworking offers flexibility and requires greater commitment. Taking time off is much more complex and difficult to justify. Work will be goal-oriented and not "office hours".
Advantages for society and States
- Reduced mobility and problems associated with traffic (accidents, pollution, stress, conflicts and fights).
- Better quality of life for workers
- Higher productivity means higher taxes and more revenue
- Reduced dependence on oil and its derivatives
Two sides of the telework coin
All these benefits only exist in a "well implemented" and responsible telework imaginary. Teleworking can become a real headache. If the individuals who practice it do not know the importance of teamwork and discipline the benefits will never come. For example, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO eliminated the work-from-home policy. And their reasons were valid, teleworking was an excuse to be absent and avoid teamwork. The company's productivity was, at least, lower than that of its competitors. The benefits of teleworking never came. The culture of teamwork did not exist.
Telework can be used exceptionally or disastrously. The great success stories of telework make clear the importance of maintaining "team spirit". That is why it is so important to get "teleworking right" and to be a "good teleworker". The list below presents 10 practical tips for teleworking that we should all implement.
Practical tips for teleworking
Let's remember that telework is a tool. Like any other tool, the success and quality of the result depends a lot on who uses it. Determining that a tool is useful for its own sake is a common mistake of those who always assume "best effort". So here are ten practical tips for teleworking, and in particular, good teleworking.
1. Work schedule and sustainable pace
As contradictory as it may sound, not setting a definite work schedule is a big problem. And I mean a schedule for most, not necessarily all, workdays. The absence of a schedule can result in two things:
- An extended schedule that never ends. Being home-based, many of us try to compensate for our physical absence with more work hours. This is particularly true when we are part of a team that "goes to the office". It can also occur when we have colleagues who work around the clock (workaholics).
- Flextime implies that you don't work enough. And this is another common mistake, thinking that flextime means "once in a while".
Take care of the effort and respect the time of others.
We must remember that the amount of hours we invest in work is a personal decision. A decision that depends on the context of each individual, their age, or their state of health. It also depends on the people around us, whether we live alone, with our partner or as a family with our children.
However, not having a definite schedule is possible. That is why I have included the second term, the "sustainable rhythm". Beyond the schedule, we must be able to maintain our productive pace "indefinitely". Working in bursts at different intensities is natural for the brain and body. However, it is exhausting in the medium and long term. Our rational brain must support us to maintain a constant, healthy and sustainable rhythm. If we work in a team we must understand that not everyone can keep up with our pace and schedules, and we must adjust.
2. Keeping the balance
Hand in hand with the above, the second tip refers to maintaining balance. Many times in my leadership classes I ask my students "what is a toxic boss? To this question they all answer negative things: bad coexistence, bad treatment of subordinates and in general "bad vibes." But this is not always the case. But this is not always the case. What happens if the work is so good and the group is so nice that we neglect other aspects of our life? What happens if by working with so much passion and love, we affect our health or family life?
My personal case of working above and beyond the call of duty
To give you an example, I want to tell you what happened to me a few years ago. I had the good fortune to work with an entrepreneur - today a well-known businessman. I remember long and exciting work days from Sunday to Sunday. I remember working late on weekdays. Not noticing it, and even enjoying a bit of that real work frenzy. But little by little other aspects of my personal life were deteriorating. Our relationships and in general our ability to interact in other contexts was being limited. One day I started to feel bad because I wasn't connected to work like the rest of the team. At one point someone who was with me asked me "but wait, do you also work on Sunday?". I had completely lost my balance and didn't know when to stop.
Teleworking is a great tool that, poorly managed, can consume the worker. Not in vain there are memes about working in pajamas and from bed. What is your working day? Do you think it's healthy to work until you're exhausted and then go on vacation?
3. A dedicated space to work
Many imagine working from home as being comfortable on the couch with the TV on. They imagine any space in the house like the dining table or the bed as ideal settings. Maybe we've all been there. It may be useful for short periods of time or extraordinary occasions. In my case, it never works for more than a couple of hours.
If the idea is to make telecommuting your lifestyle, you should look for a dedicated work space. Or several spaces. Nowadays the coworking (shared offices) are a great option and offer plans for nomadic workers. Also, some coffee or food shops offer very nice workspaces.
In my personal case, I have set up a small office in a secluded area of the house. Away from common areas like the living room, TV area and video games. I can isolate myself from the rest and have a sense of "work mode" without affecting others. Not only is it practical, it prevents me from having background noise during work sessions or videoconferences. unexpected scenes happen.
This mental separation is necessary to maintain a sustainable rhythm. Remember, balancing work, family and personal time is also a matter of space.
4. Organization and discipline
Teleworking depends 100% on your ability to self-organize. Procrastination, that wonderful human ability to postpone the things we need to do. we must will be your worst enemy. If you have never been a very disciplined person, I recommend helping yourself with some self-management techniques. Two very famous techniques are the Pomodoro Technique o GTD (Get Things Done).
There are also very simple SW tools. Some of them are free. Microsoft To Do (formerly Wunderlist) or Google Tasks can be of great help if used with regularity and discipline. There are also more complex organization systems such as Trello o Asana - this last one is one of my favorites. Applying agile management techniques such as Kanban can be very useful for distributed teams.. Scrum can be a general teamwork framework that is also useful in remote or virtual environments.
5. Adequate infrastructure
This is my favorite tip. As a good GeekI thoroughly enjoy the "toys" or "gadgets" associated with work. If you know me personally you know I have a few favorites and carry several of them all the time. But here's the important piece of advice, don't be stingy. You are going to spend a large part of your life working. A good chair and a good desk are essential. Having multiple screens, a good keyboard, a good mouse also help maintain good health.
When telecommuting is the norm, your workspace should be very comfortable and ergonomic. I find it very funny and contradictory to see people always working from home on tiny 13″ or 14″ screens. This reminds me of the 80's to 90's. I see them with their hands crooked in unnatural positions using the trackpad or touchpad.
Mobility and productivity
You have two fronts to work on, improve mobility and increase productivity. Be light and robust.
- If you use your devices in fixed and determined places buy more than one charger and leave it in each place. Nothing is more tedious and damaging to cables and adapters than the "plug and unplug" game. Lighten the trip.
- If you make calls or video calls, invest in a device with noise-cancelling microphone. My favourites Plantronics Voyager 5200 and the Logitech G533. Remember every time on a call or video conference I hear someone else's background noise. The worst thing is not being able to hear or be heard. Out of respect for others and to maintain productivity you must ensure that you are heard loud and clear.
- At home you should have at least one standalone 23″ or 27″ monitor to optimize your primary work. I prefer more than one, for personal and ego issues, but it's a good investment.
- Separate laptop keyboard and mouse. My favourites Logitech K750 (wireless and solar) and Apple's Magic Mouse.
- A good Internet connection. Use a network preferably wired and not just WiFi. In my case, I have a network with TP-Link Deco Home Mesh. It's by far the best infrastructure investment to date. There are no more discussions about WiFi coverage or the number of connected devices.
Invest in the best chair you can buy. Your back, arms and sleeping ability will thank you. Consult an ergonomist if necessary.
6. The cloud as the best ally
To improve mobility - and be lighter, you can use multiple devices. For example, if you have more than one computer, you may suffer with file synchronization, versions. Phrases like "I have it on the other computer" seem anachronistic, but they are more common than we think. Invest in a cloud file system such as DropBox, Google Drive o One Drive is the best decision. It's not only about keeping your files up to date and in sync, but also about backups and access via web browser.
The cloud doesn't just offer storage. GSuite, Office 365 y ZoHo One offer cloud applications such as text editor, spreadsheet and presentations. But we can find much more, from a project manager and collaborative tools, to enterprise systems. It's a world of possibilities.
In my case, I've been using Google Docs since 2008. Well, that's what it used to be called. Today, I'm thankful I made that decision. I've never lost a file or a presentation again. I have versions of all my documents and I'm always ready to give a lecture.
7. Videoconferencing and quality calls
You may be an outsider, a working hermit. You may not require work or interaction with other individuals. There are a great many jobs that do not require any interaction with other individuals. But most of us need, and want, to interact with other people. Having the right tools to make a phone call or video conference is critical. Telecommuting requires tools to share screens or work collaboratively on documents and files. There are tools on the market such as Microsoft Skype and Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom.US and Google's tools (including Hangouts). Some are more popular and effective than others.
Also remember to have a good camera. Virtually all laptops these days have one built in. But also a microphone and a good headset. Be a pro.
In my company we use Zoom. Zoom is incredibly simple and intuitive. The paid version allows you to record and store your meetings and presentations. There are other options such as Microsoft Teamswhich I consider to be one of the big players in the world of teleworking. The great advantage of Microsoft products is their integration with the entire Office suite.
8. A good Internet provider
For those who work from home, having an Internet provider can make the experience very satisfying. There is no greater frustration than trying to connect to a video conference and having the Internet provider fail. Like the best doctor who, in the middle of the most challenging surgery, falls victim to a power outage. What's the point of being - or trying to be - the best, if your providers leave you alone. This is a real challenge for those of us who live in developing countries. Something as basic as a good Internet channel can be a challenge. Even more so if you don't live in a capital city - because sometimes even in the suburbs you don't have good coverage.
Use different Internet providers, one for your home and one for your mobile phone. At least you have a contingency plan. Consider a good data plan for your mobile. Consider a good channel or bandwidth for your home. Do the necessary tests.
9. Disconnect and share with others
Teleworking can be added to other habits of our time. A marathon of your favorite series on a streaming service. Playing endless games of COD (Call of Duty), LOL (League of Legends), Overwatch, Fortnite or Minecraft. The dependence in our time on technology can make your personal life become lonely and somewhat monotonous. When you start teleworking, it may seem like everything is going great. However, as the months and years go by, you can end up lonely and depressed. And I'm not kidding. Disconnect.
Having activities that connect you with others is key. It helps you stay mentally balanced and happy. It can be something simple, like a group bike ride with friends. Or it could be making plans as a couple. Maybe it's having an accomplice for a hamburger or hotdog tour. Remember, relating well with other people is the secret to happiness.. Telecommuting can drive you away. You will gradually lose practice and empathy. You will forget how to interact and behave in society. Don't let technology consume you.
10. You are not alone, play as a team
I saved this tip for last. If you've taken the time to read the whole article, you'll get to the most valuable advice. Telecommuting requires more commitment to the team (teamwork). Everyone, without exception, must commit to the team. Virtual teams lose what is known as the "osmotic communication". If a team is physically unable to meet or is subject to a quarantine suffers to consolidate the team spirit. Often there is not even team identity, we are just strangers working together. These elements, so characteristic of a high performance team, suffer in teleworking. I believe that constant and well managed communication is fundamental to achieve cohesion. And I don't mean meeting for meeting's sake. Consolidating trust between team members requires effort and dedication from everyone.
Implications of teleworking
Teamwork for teleworkers involves:
- Understand that not everything can be discussed via email or instant messaging (WhatsApp or Telegram).
- Improve the use of language as a primary communication tool. Writing, punctuation and even capitalization are important.
- Mastering and taking care of non-verbal communication. The way you dress is important. And by this I don't mean style, I mean respect for others. Pajamas clearly express disinterest in the meeting. Being in your bed while having a videoconference expresses that this activity was not among your priorities. How you sit and where your hands are can make a big difference in the perception of others.
- Have a team schedule. This can work against individual autonomy and flexible scheduling. I've always said, you can't play a football game if every player chooses their own schedule. Sometimes it's important that we're all together, available and not necessarily meeting in a conference. Knowing that each other is available if you need them also helps with team building.
Conclusions and final recommendations for teleworking
I hope you find these practical tips for teleworking useful. Teleworking is a real option for many companies and workers. It almost always requires an adjustment to the rules of the game to deliver the same or better results. We need to rethink the way we work as individuals, as a company and as a society. Technology is an enabler of telework, but it requires discipline and respect for the work of others. Telework demands greater collaboration and teamwork.
It's not a simple task, especially now under pressure, but if not now, when? I invite you to leave your comments, and if I have left anything out, please share your experience and input.