What is telework?

In an ever-changing business environment, terms like “telework” and “remote work” are becoming an important part of our daily conversations. Most of us understand what they imply, but in day-to-day practice, what do they really mean?

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the term “telework” applies when an employee regularly completes assigned duties away from the office. Some employees spend 40 hours or more per week working from home, while others spend a combination of hours working at the office or another location.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, an estimated 16 percent of the American workforce worked remotely, at least part of the time. That means more than 26 million employees spend a portion of their work hours at their home, a coworking space, or another offsite location.

Teleworking vs telecommuting

You might use the terms teleworking and telecommuting interchangeably, as OPM does, but there is an important difference between the two:

  • Teleworking. Teleworkers still travel to and from work locations, but they don’t commute to a regular office. So, teleworking means that you are working somewhere away from your company’s office, but you might still commute to a coworking space or to client sites for specific projects.
  • Telecommuting. Telecommuting refers to the elimination of a daily commute. If there’s no need to leave your house regularly because you work at home, then you’re a telecommuter.

As a telecommuter, you fall into the category of teleworking. But not all teleworkers are telecommuters.

Benefits for employers and employees

Teleworking offers a range of benefits for both employers and employees. Here are some of the reasons why employers offer telework positions:

  • The ability to hire workers in distant geographic locations
  • Broader access to specialized skills and unique talent
  • Reduced overhead expenses

Not only are these benefits appealing for employers, but employees are happy to accept telework positions for a variety of reasons:

  • A flexible schedule
  • A wider variety of work opportunities

Teleworking saves money

Teleworking can also be a necessity when a company is looking for ways to cut costs. For example, if a branch office shuts down, the company can retain employees by offering work-from-home or telework positions to those who previously worked at that location.

The impact of telework on employee performance

For many employers, their main concern is whether teleworking will reduce employee productivity. If an employee is working away from the office, will they be able to maintain focus during their workday?

The answer is — it depends. Some people are more productive outside of the office. If an employee needs time to focus on solving problems or concentrate on a task, it may be easier to minimize interruptions away from the office.

Knowledge workers who can complete their job tasks on a laptop, such as computer programmers, insurance adjusters, accountants, and financial analysts, are often successful in a telework environment. If the job responsibilities require minimal social support and collaboration, then skilled employees can complete their tasks from any location.

But some jobs are better done at an office or formal place of business, especially when the work requires face-to-face communication or access to materials and equipment. Another potential drawback to telework is when employees feel professionally or socially isolated because they have fewer opportunities to interact with coworkers in person.

5 teleworking tips for productivity

If you or your employees are teleworking, follow these tips to optimize productivity:

  1. Manage communication. While it’s important to keep in contact with coworkers and employees, online chat and text messages can sometimes be a distraction. Check in several times a day, but also be deliberate about planning uninterrupted blocks of time when you can focus without digital distractions.
  2. Invest in equipment. The right equipment facilitates productivity away from the office. Provide employees with access to laptops, phones, chargers, printers, tablets, and any other necessary office supplies.
  3. Establish guidelines. How often would you like employees to check in with their managers or teams? Teleworking guidelines are important for managing productivity. These guidelines should include details such as expected work hours, meeting frequency, and workflow.
  4. Consider time zone differences. If team members are working in different time zones, be thoughtful when choosing virtual meeting times. Recorded meetings can be helpful in this situation.
  5. Leverage digital tools. Rarely is there a need to send printed paperwork in the mail. Our modern business environment makes it easy to sign contracts and finalize business deals digitally. Cloud tools put your documents at your fingertips regardless of your location. Check out these 5 JotForm tools that could help.

The combination of good strategies and motivated employees is a great recipe for teleworking. For employees who can take their projects away from the office, telework can have a positive impact on their productivity and the quality of their lives.

This article is originally published on May 07, 2020, and updated on Aug 06, 2020
AUTHOR
Ex-nomad finally managed to settle. Been to 51 countries and counting. Doesn't like to be stuck in an office. Cappuccino aficionado.

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