Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tele-working future

Is the idea of a self-sustaining neighbourhood a pipe dream? What would it take to transform my city into a collection of thriving communities where everyone could go to work where they lived? It seems so simple really, especially in a government town. I work at my nearest satellite office alongside other feds; some of my team are there with me and the rest are scattered about other generic GC office buildings -- no HQ required. Rush hour would be history. All of the pressure to 'densify' the core beyond what is sustainable would suddenly disappear.

So why is this not happening? Or is it? Proponents will say that a decentralized work force is unmanageable. However, does sharing the same office space really make us a team? A change like this requires that we redefine our concepts of work and management. Today, we pay people to sit at their desks for a fixed number of hours a day and we pay managers to supervise their productivity. The easiest way to do this is to make sure your employee is physically present. Sadly, this is where management begins and ends in the public service. Since there is no real accountability, there is no planning. Work just falls from the sky and gets doled out as it happens. Ask most managers if they know exactly what their staff is working on, when they expect to have it completed and what it will look like when it's done and I doubt they'd be able to give an honest answer. You start moving employees across the city and all of a sudden you have less of a need to manage staff in the traditional way.
In order for any kind of teleworking arrangement to work, you need to believe that your people will continue to work even when no one is physically watching them. Trust is key. The lack of trust between employees and management is ingrained in the culture of some organizations. When a bus strike brought my city to its knees a few years ago, I sat in a meeting and heard my peers express their serious 'concerns' with permitting teleworking for some employees. It really angered me to hear them speak of their staff this way -- the problem was not teleworking -- it was a lack of trust (and clearly a lack of leadership ).
In order to motivate employees, you need to inspire them -- remind them of the team's purpose and show them how their work is contributing to that end. You also have to understand the results you expect to attain and be able to measure if your team is making the grade. Again, if there's no accountability then why bother measuring results? K -- this is turning into another one of my leadership rants, so I better sign off. What I meant to do was document a particularly fruitful discussion I had this week that started with urban intesntification and eventually evolved to leadership in the public service. Love making all those connections. Any longer and I'm sure it would've ended with campaign finance reform! I hope that my generation makes this a reality -- we stand so much to gain from tele-working -- more productive employees, happier families, healthier environment ... the future is bright and I'm excited about it!

1 comment:

  1. Di, I couldn't agree more. In fact, our company will be doing this as soon as we're in need of hiring. We calculated how much our overhead would be if we hired anyone (afterall, we would need an office, can't have them working from our house!), and the extra cost of an office + incidentals was not worth it. Even if an employee slacks off 30% of the time working from home, we're still saving money over getting an office. As long as they get the work done well and on time, I don't care how much they slack off. And this way I also don't have to spend part of my day looking over someone's shoulder, which I would probably feel necessary if they were physically in my space. It's the wave of the future for small companies especially, I think!