Think back to elementary school. Some of your best work might not have been completed at your desk. Maybe you thought best while on the playground, or sitting in the reading corner. Or maybe your brightest ideas came while drawing on the chalkboard, or during the car ride home.
The same still applies for many adults who might be more productive at their kitchen table than their office desk, says Gil Gordon, a telecommuting expert and owner of Gil Gordon Associates in Monmouth Junction. “They say the hospital is a terrible place to get well,” he says. “The office is a terrible place to do office work. You need to work where you work best.”
Gordon will discuss how mobile-work options can increase productivity and boost bottom lines during “Managing the Distributed Workforce: Telecommuting, Teleworking, Mobile Work, and More” on Thursday, June 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Burlington County College in Mount Holly. Cost: $49. Call 609-894-9311, ext. 3021, or visit www.bcc.edu.
During the course, Gordon will provide a brief overview of mobile work, the distributed workforce, the need to eliminate the “line-of-sight” managerial style, and the best practices on how to effectively implement telecommuting. “Today’s manager has or almost will have some kind of worker on the go, and that manager is going to have to learn how to deal with that,” he says.
Gordon grew up in New York state, where he worked in his father’s hardware store and for the local weekly newspaper. His mother was a housewife and active volunteer. He earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Northeastern University and later a master’s in organizational behavior from Cornell University.
He moved to New Jersey in 1974 and worked in human resources at Johnson & Johnson until 1982. He then started Gil Gordon Associates and has since worked as a consultant and expert on telecommuting. “This was something that I wanted to tackle — to blend human resources with my developing interest in office technology,” he says.
Considered a pioneer in telecommuting practices, Gordon was inducted into the Telework Hall of Fame by the International Telework Association and Council in 1999. He is the author of “Turn It Off: How to Unplug from the Anytime, Anywhere Office Without Disconnecting Your Career” and “Teleworking Explained” with Mike Gray and Noel Hodson. He lives with his wife, Ellen, a retired remedial reading teacher, in South Brunswick. The couple has two children, Lisa, 27, a first-grade teacher, and Adam, 30, an attorney.
#b#Defining telecommuting, or teleworking, or whatever you call it.#/b# Telecommuting is among about a dozen terms — also including mobile work, virtual work, and teleworking — most commonly used to describe the process of completing work outside of an office environment.
“What we’re moving toward is a pattern of two days at the office, two days at the client site, one day at home,” Gordon says. “It changes weekly, and interspersed with that is time working in airplanes, hotel lobbies, Starbucks, and libraries.”
While more employers are allowing or encouraging telecommuting now, the trend is certainly not new, Gordon says. Dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, employers began to separate what people do and where they do it. “Think sales reps, consultants, truck drivers,” who often have no physical or permanent office space, he says.
“You don’t have to be in an office to do office work,” especially as technology becomes better, cheaper, and more versatile, he says. “The big mental obstacle is that notion of working away from the structure of the office.”
#b#Tools to make telecommuting work.#/b# Telecommuting is widely accepted today, but there is still some management resistance to the trend, Gordon says.
“If I can’t see you, I don’t know you’re working,” he says, repeating a common concern among managers. “A manager who thinks that by virtue of proximity employees are working effectively is deluding her or himself. It doesn’t mean employees are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, or doing it the right way. Employees have mastered the art of looking busy.”
The key to making telecommuting work, whether your workforce is distributed on different floors in the same building or working in a virtual office, is managing with your brain, not your eyeballs. Managers must also maintain communication and allow employees to work wherever they work best.
“We’re never going to get rid of our office buildings,” he says. “Many people will still work in them for most of the time. But the notion that a manager has all of her direct reports within a stone’s throw is becoming the exception. The real hallmark is enlightened managers who are saying work where you work best tomorrow. Based on your style, schedule, and available technologies, work where can you add the most value tomorrow.”
Easier said than done, right? Not if you shift your focus from observing activity daily to expecting results, Gordon says. For most jobs, “where and when those results get generated don’t make a difference. The manager who clings to the notion of everybody being together is rapidly, if not already, going to be out of step with what today’s workforce wants and needs.”
#b#The dos and don’ts of telecommuting.#/b# Flexible work arrangements, compressed work weeks, or any other variation on the full-time, five-day, in-the-office work week will promote effectiveness among workers and serve as a powerful recruitment and retention tool, Gordon says. “Any smart employer knows it’s hard and will continue to get harder to keep smart and talented people. It’s dollars and sense.”
However, there are several dos and don’ts employers should keep in mind when implementing telecommuting. For example, “Do be very strategic about how and when to have everyone in the same place at the same time,” particularly if your company is saving office space by employing telecommuters, Gordon says. Employees might resent cramming into an office for a 10-minute meeting that could have been conducted via E-mail, Skype, or conference call.
As for the don’ts, Gordon says, “Don’t let the E-mail inbox become the long-distance equivalent of the watchful eye,” in which you’re counting employees’ computer keystrokes to ensure they’re working or constantly checking in with employees, making it difficult for them to complete work because they are spending so much time corresponding with you.
“That doesn’t make sense for a knowledge worker. You can’t tele-micromanage.”