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Gil Gordon 
Looking for answers to your telecommuting questions? Check out Gil's informative FAQs and then Ask Gil if you need further help!

 EP Telecommuting Q&As

Q. I am a trainer for a large company in Houston. We are kicking off our first telecommuting team in which I've been asked to provide training. I want to focus on measuring productivity, renew lost creativity, maintain direct communication with the office, and how to manage time at home with the "home distractions." Do you have any activities that I could use to begin my work with this group?
 
Angela Sprock
A. These are great questions. It's quite important to be able to measure the effects of telecommuting, not only to justify the program but also to understand better why you do or don't get certain outcomes.
 
The problem, though, is that you can't measure any of these or other dimensions away from the office any more precisely than you can when the employees are in the office. It's actually quite unsettling when you realize how inadequately we measure white-collar worker performance in the office today. [I have addressed these and related issues, and offered some suggestions, in a downloadable "white paper" on productivity at my site at: http://www.gilgordon.com/downloads/productivity.txt.]
 
A related issue is about whether you're trying to measure inputs or outputs: whenever you measure time, you're measuring inputs; whenever you're measuring forms processed, budgets revised, proposals written, etc. you're measuring outputs. For knowledge workers, the outputs, or results, count much more. With some notable exceptions for certain jobs, the main
concern with managing telecommuters should be on the results, or deliverables -- the actual number of work hours, and whether they're working or watching TV, really is less important.
 
Gil

Q. I work for a multi-national company based in London. The North American headquarters is based in Wilmington, DE. I have worked out of this location for a little more than 2 years as a Sales and Marketing Representative covering North America. As you can imagine it requires that I travel a few days a month. Additionally, I travel to the UK 2-3 times/yr.

 
When I joined the organization there was a chance that I would be moving away from the Wilmington office -- my husband was pursuing a career change. I was completely open with them about this and because my job required so much travel, they accepted this. At the time there were also several other reps working from their homes so it was not a very big issue.
 
Now I have a newborn (the light of my life) and am excited to be starting
back to work, but my employer is insisting that I either have a nanny or
put my daughter in day care. They had mentioned that this was a policy while I was pregnant, but I haven't seen any evidence of such policy, although I
have asked for it, and assumed that as long as the baby wasn't interfering
with my work it would not become an issue.
 
Unfortunatly, they are asking me weekly what my plans are. In all honesty I plan to enroll her in daycare when she becomes more mobile and requires more attention. I am just not sure I can give her the
attention she needs while trying to take conference calls and make a sale.
I want to put this off as long as possible, however, and don't feel that my employer has the right to tell me how to care for may baby. Their concern should be my perfomance and as long as that doesn't suffer we are all happy.
 
My employer claims that although I am completely trustworthy, the policy(?)
applies to all and they can't make exceptions.
 
In your research have you come across any evidence in support of my
suspicion that my employer has no right to tell me how I manage my home life?
A. Many employers have as part of their telecommuting policies or agreements statements to the effect that the telecommuter's first responsibility is to get the job done, and that telecommuting shouldn't be viewed as a subtitute for child care. Here, in fact, is the text from a boilerplate agreement I use (and will be putting up on my site in July):
 
18. Telecommuting is not to be viewed as a substitute for dependent care. Company XYZ expects that you will make arrangements for someone to care for your children or other dependents (if applicable) if needed. The company recognizes that one advantage of working at home is the opportunity to have
more time with dependents, but it is your responsibility to insure that you are fully able to complete your work assignments on time.
 
It is a very delicate issue to go as far as to specifically direct an
employee to put a child in day care or get a nanny. The intent of that directive is sound, i.e., the goal is to get the work done. But, it's sort of heavy-handed. The focus should be on the job performance, not on the child care.
 
What I prefer companies to do is to make it clear that the employee will be held accountable for results just as before the child arrived. If the parent/telecommuter can do both jobs at once (work and parent), that's fine -- but it's also very unlikely, especially if the parent is trying to work anything near full-time.
 
The real dilemma here is that what appears to be a perfect solution is very imperfect. I have known of many telecommuters who thought they could do both, and ended up staying up until very late at night to get the work done as required -- only to be awakened at 5 am by the baby. Instead of telecommuting in this instance being a "win-win" solution in which everyone comes out ahead, it can become a "lose-lose" in which nobody feels good
about it.
 
I'm all in favor of flexible work arrangements, parents being able to be with their kids, and progressive management -- but not to the point where it creates more problems than it solves.
 
Hope this helps.
 
Gil
Q. I've been working as a scientific programmer for the same company for the past 3.5 years. When I had problems with my 2nd pregnancy, I arranged to work part-time from home and part-time in the office. I talked to my boss before my baby was born and he agreed to let me continue to telecommute after I came back. Now he says he wants me to work a more "normal" work week (5 days per week in the office). I have continued to get all my work done and have even been more productive working from home. Now he is saying he will not let me continue working from home on a regular basis.
With my salary, fulltime daycare for 2 children would take 50% of my income and doesn't seem worth it. How can I convince him to continue letting me work from home? With my schedule now, I work 3 full days and 1 half day in the office and the remaining 10 hours from home. This seems reasonable to me since I am able to do the exact same work from home and make myself available through email or the phone.
 
I'm so upset about this, I'm almost ready to quit and try something else, but my family cannot afford to live without my income. To top it off, my boss is an older single man who has never had a family (or even a pet) and I'm having trouble relating my need to be with my children while they are young.
A. This is a very interesting, and somewhat complex, question.
It seems to me there are three issues here:
 
1. Why your boss wants you to come back to the office full-time.
2. Whether and how you are able to juggle your work and your child care.
3. What the consequences might be to you and your boss if you are unable to comply with his request.
 
The first is the most important, it seems to me. You don't say anything about why he wants you to return to the office full-time. Assuming he agrees with you that you are able to do at least as much work, as well, when you are telecommuting, I'm not sure why he is pressuring you to return. Therefore, my first suggestion is that you try to find out what is motivating his request. Don't put him on the defensive -- you can approach it with a very innocent but sincere (and non-accusing) statement such as, "Frankly, I'm a little confused about your request. What have you seen in my work while telecommuting that makes you feel you want me to return to the office full time?"
 
My hunch -- and it's only that -- is the boss's request has nothing to do with your own work. It is more likely due to pressure (subtle or otherwise) he is getting from his peer managers or his own boss to end this flexibility. He may also be getting some requests from your co-workers who want to telecommute for various reasons, and is uncomfortable telling them "no" after having told you "yes."
 
Once you find out what's going on in his mind, it will be easier for you to address his concerns.
 
Next, I'd ask you to honestly assess how you have been able to manage child care and job simultaneously. This can be extraordinarily demanding. While you say that your work hasn't suffered, might there have been times when, for example, your boss called you and heard crying in the background, or otherwise felt that your child care was intruding on your work? If so, he might be very uncomfortable with that -- and perhaps rightly so. The key to blending telecommuting and child care is to NOT do both at once, unless you have unusually docile, compliant, and perfect children (which ours never were!).
 
Last, what WILL you do if the boss persists in his request? Will the financial consequences you describe be serious enough to cause you to quit, or to cut back to part-time? And if you do either, how will that effect the boss and the department's workload? I'm not suggesting you threaten the boss with the possibility of quitting, but IF that is real, you can certainly note that you are faced with this dilemma. If you are truly valuable, and will be hard to replace, then you might get your boss's attention. But if you can be replaced in a heartbeat or perhaps your job would be eliminated if you left, then you have less leverage.
 
Best of luck -- and remember to try to find out what's motivating the boss's request before taking any action. Your comment about how his single/male/childless perspective might make it hard for him to appreciate what you are going through may be correct -- but that's not going to be a fruitful topic of discussion. You need to keep things focused on your ability to get the work done, and his ability to rely on you to do so.
 
Best of luck,
Gil

 

 
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