Can you tell me about Telework New Zealand and what your role there involves?
I set up Telework New Zealand in 1997/98 to provide consulting services to organisations and governments. It implemented telework programmes, promoted the concept to many different audiences, provided seminars and workshops and conducted research services for a number of regional councils. In 2007, the company was commissioned to build and maintain the Australian Federal Government's telework website - a site I continue to maintain.
What exactly is teleworking? And is it different from remote working?
Telework and remote working are basically the same thing. Telework is simply 'work from a distance'. Teleworkers generally perform their tasks at home or in telecentres, although many other locations could be utilised. Teleworkers are not normally away from their traditional office for more than three days a week - in well-managed programmes.
I haven't seen any good definitions of 'remote working'. I use telework rather than remote work as 'remote' has negative connotations: in well-managed programmes the worker is not remote - they remain fully connected to the traditional office.
It's also worth noting that telework can be both informal - ad hoc, when needed, with no formal policies in place - or formal - with policies, agreements, training and so on. Needless to say, formal programmes deliver more benefits.
Is teleworking on the rise in small and medium-sized businesses?
Teleworking is on the rise, although probably informally. It just makes sense for many SMEs: office space is expensive, lifestyle demands continue to grow, the technology is making it easier and a new breed of manager is learning that it is work - not presence in the office - that is important. It's also fair to say that many organisations are realising they have to move to more flexible work arrangements in order to remain productive in the event of major change events, such as earthquakes, floods and so on.
What are some of the advantages of teleworking for SMEs?
The main advantages are A, retaining and recruiting good staff - many employees require or demand greater flexibility - B, increased productivity - both more and better work - and C, cheaper office space and other cost savings.
What are some of the challenges? Is the fear that staff will 'skive off' a real one?
The main challenge is that many managers are not able or confident enough to manage staff they can't see all the time. No special equipment is required - just the tools required to do the job and appropriate communication tools.
The answer to 'how do I know they're working?' is another question: how do you know they're working when they're in the office? The same measurements should apply no matter where the employee is based. Work should never be measured by presence or time spent working: it's the outcomes - or outputs - that are important and these can be monitored no matter where the employee is.
What are you top tips for making teleworking work, especially in relation to small businesses?
1. Give it a go.
2. Establish a formal policy so everyone knows where they stand.
3. Monitor the programme so that problems can be identified and solved, and benefits can be measured.
4. Keep it simple - that is, change as little as possible. In an ideal programme, the only thing that changes is the location where the work is performed.
Coming up in Small Business: With Easter is on its way, I'll be looking at small business chocolatiers. If you're keen to get in touch, drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.