I read an interesting piece on manager resistance to teleworking on the Washington Technology website. It discusses four reasons why managers (specifically government employees in the case of this article) are resistant to letting their staff telework:
1. Technical disconnects: specifically equipment and security
2. Disconnected employees: impromptu face to face meetings count
3. Management matters: management attitudes on performance are critical
4. Bad apple. Bad news: this boils down to can managers trust their employees to be productive when out of sight?
But how many managers really feel this? It seems that managers are among the people teleworking. I haven't come across many (any) workforces where the managers are all in the office staring at spaces where their staff should be sitting and the staff are all merrily working at home (or out playing golf, or whatever).
In my experience it is more that the managers telework while the front line customer facing staff are the ones more likely to be in the office. You can't have a teleworking receptionist, for example.
I question the surveys that report on teleworking because a) they don't give suggestions on how to overcome the resistance they've surfaced, and b) they put managers and staff into different categories, whereas – as I've said – managers also telework. Additionally, I haven't met a manager who admits to being resistant in principle to teleworking either for him/herself or for his/her employees.
They do throw up some legitimate issues – mainly to do with the technology involved. Good connectivity through a variety of software platforms plus easily accessible technical back up is essential, and often lacking.
I teach at Capella University. It is totally on-line and the technology is set up with that intention. Thus as far as my teaching goes I am 100% teleworking (or in some parlances I am a virtual worker). It doesn't seem to be a big issue for management or for the faculty and staff. We have a variety of platforms – admittedly some work better than others but students get taught, papers get graded, staff have meetings to discuss faculty business, managers give feedback. It all works just as well as any bricks and mortar organization.
So I don't have much truck with surveys that suggest manager resistance to teleworking is one of the major barriers to at least trying to extend teleworking. As a generalization it seems that the where teleworking in a traditional bricks and mortar organization is an 'add-on' to the way work is done then can hit some barriers. But where it has a supportive infrastructure and people are recruited to an organization knowing that teleworking or hoteling is what they are expected to do (either as staff or managers) – then resisting teleworking doesn't even enter their head.
Someone who works at Accenture told me last week that they are now almost 100% hoteling i.e. no employee has a personal, permanent office space to call home. All space is bookable, and that's what people do. They book space if they need it. Accenture had not fallen to pieces, or dropped productivity – it's a successful organization. The infrastructure works to support the business strategy of hoteling. Thus the organisation design is in alignment.
My hypothesis is that if the teleworking infrastructure works well (technology, policies, performance expectations, etc) then manager resistance will be negligible. I'd be interested in hearing views on this.