Getting The Most Out Of Telework
In the private sector, telework is rising. As many as 43% of all employees spend at least some time working remotely, at a location that differs from their coworkers.
Yet, the Washington Post reported earlier this month that the federal government is seeking to limit telework at a number of agencies because of worries that employees are “slacking off.”
There are lots of semi-truths about telework —and work/life balance — and there are lots of ways that workers can respond to the challenges of telecommuting.
1.Telework employees are less productive. This is the belief that prompted various agencies within the federal government to cut back on workers’ ability to telecommute. It turns out that not only do most employees think that a remote work schedule would boost their productivity, telecommuting actual does result in more productivity, according to various studies. In an experiment with Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found that productivity increased by 13%, while employee attrition dropped 50%.
Other research shows that full-time remote work may not have the same productivity gains; the optimal remote work week is 60-80% of the time.
2.More women engage in telework. This is sort of true. Among those who work part-time, more than a third of women report that they work from home on an average day, compared to just over one-fifth of men.
Moreover, women are much more likely than men to work part-time. But, among full-time workers, men are slightly more likely to work from home on an average day (23.5% compared to 21.6%).
3.Telework increases parents’ ability to balance work and family. Maybe. Telework does offer flexibility. Nonetheless, “Remote work is a double edged sword when it comes to gender equity and inclusion. People in traditional caregiver roles can stay in the workforce because of remote work. However, it also means that because we CAN work and care for domestic tasks more easily, it can uphold gender stereotypes,” notes Teresa Douglas, co-author of Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams, which was just published this month. Women are ten times more likely than men to take time off work when their children are sick.
4.Telework is becoming increasingly available. Sort of. The availability of telework varies by industry and education levels. It is increasing in healthcare and law and public policy, for example, while decreasing in science/engineering architecture. And there is a large education gap. Less than 12% of those with a high school degree worked at home on any given day compared to more than 41% of those with an advanced degree.
5.Telework delays promotion. We already know that the management pipeline for women is broken. It may be that teleworkers are less likely to get promoted. And it’s true that teleworking means less visibility in the physical workplace.
So how can workers make sure they get all that they want and need out of telecommuting at home and at work? Here are some suggestions.
Don’t take on more work at home. If you have a spouse or significant other, you need to discuss how remote work will affect housework and childcare. But telework is still work, and taking on even more work at home will interfere with your work responsibilities. You need to be clear on who is doing what: “I cook and handle school drop off and pick up for our children. My husband cleans the house. When my husband suggests that I take on the laundry, I simply say "Which of the tasks do you want to trade for laundry—cooking or child pick up" instead of getting mad.”
Protect your work time. Douglas points out women sometimes “feel guilty that we can't do it all. It's hard to say no when people ask us to do things because often remote work is flexible.” Instead, when someone asks her to do something, her first step is to stop to figure out if she should do that, given her own financial needs and professional goals. She goes further and ask: “What am I saying no to in order to say yes to this person?”
Make sure you know how your work will be evaluated. It’s your performance, not your visibility in the workplace, that is important. You need to ensure that your telework is viewed and valued.
Telework works, but only if individuals, families, co-workers, and employers work together.