Telework training for teams

Last week we were running a one day introduction to team based teleworking. It was a pilot program with two teams of staff plus their managers. It was a fun day – opening with an icebreaker using the go ask anyone cards which usually start people off laughing as they discover, for example, what their co-workers answer to a question like "what did you want to be when you grew up?" or "if you could trade places with someone for a week, whom would you choose and why?"

The day was in two parts. The morning of the workshop were focused exclusively on the team, the work it needs to produce and how they think/feel they need to work together when operating remotely.

The afternoon concentrated on the tools and software that most appropriately met the group's needs in terms of their work and the community they want to build, and getting their computers up and running for working on them away from the office.

To summarize the day looked like:

1. What type of work do we do, and how does play out day to day?
2. If we were working remotely from each other how would we retain a sense of community, stay in touch with each other, and demonstrate that we are being productive?
3. How do we tackle perceived barriers to teleworking including career development, performance management, integrating new joiners into a virtual team, and handling decision making and conflicts, etc
4. Given how we work and how we want to stay in touch what kind of technology and software makes the most sense? (We have 'tasters' of commonly used ones to demo in this slot)
5. Setting up and testing people's computers to work off-site via VPN or Citrix.

It worked very well on the whole – though we are making some amendments to parts of it. For example, because the two teams had been teleworking for a month or so they had some practical aspects they need to agree – like protocols for filing and accessing shared documents to make retrieval easy. We didn't have some of those practical things covered in the original design.

On that same day, November 18, the US Congress passed the Telework Enhancement Act OF 2010. The announcement I first saw read:

Today, the House of Representatives passed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. The Senate passed the final version of the legislation by unanimous consent on September 29 and the House passed it with a bipartisan vote of 254-152 on November 18. The legislation now proceeds to President Obama's desk for signature into law.

I then looked at a fuller story on Federal News Radio. Under the new law US Government agencies must:

• Establish a telework policy and determine employee eligibility within 180 days of the bill becoming law.
• Set up interactive training programs for teleworkers and telework managers.
• Include telework in business continuity plans.
• Appoint a telework managing officer who is a senior official with direct access to the agency head.
• Submit yearly progress reports to the Office of Personnel Management.

This was good news because the organization that I'm working with has been developing its teleworking policy and strategy over the last few months and is somewhat ahead of the game in meeting legislative requirements on this.

There's lots of material out there to help managers of telework schemes. One I've found useful is A Handbook for Managing Teleworkers, by Sandra Gurvis and Don Philpott, and the accompanying Toolkit -because they focus heavily on team telework rather than individual telework.

The handbook outlines a five step process for introducing and managing teleworking and teleworkers, (with the focus on the work team as the unit for management).

Step One gives you the tools you need to decide whether your organization needs teleworking. It looks at the jobs suitable for teleworking, the benefits and the technology needed to make it happen.

Step Two focuses on putting together a teleworking team. This includes successful strategies for telework programs, creating guidelines for managers and employees, writing telework agreements and selecting the right people. There are also important sections on safety, security and the legal rights of teleworkers.

Step Three is all about organization – getting together a winning game plan. In addition, there is information about training and setting up a continuity-of-operations plan to maintain essential functions in the event of a major disaster.

Step Four covers implementation – how you make it all happen. In addition, there is guidance on insurances, taxes and health care options and how they impact teleworkers.

Step Five discusses maintenance – now that you have set up your teleworking program what do you have to do to ensure it runs smoothly.

Next week we run the amended program with a second pilot group so I'm guessing we'll be making more adjustments after that.

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