Innovation, Thought Through, Works: The Telework Example

Telework is a perfect example of how innovation works if thought through-and the costs if not. Contrast the commitment to telework at the USPTO with its end at Yahoo. While most discussions of telework program success tend to focus on the commitment of the teleworkers, I have observed over time that the performance of the communications and security technologies is of primary importance. Given good technology and responsive back and home office support, teleworkers are more inclined to work too much than too little. Any innovative program needs tweaking, but rather examine the roots of teleworker inefficiency and detachment Mayer simply cashiered the program, wasting the sunk costs and her talent’s goodwill. Will Yahoo lose critical talent? Could Yahoo have overcome the glitches, vulnerabilities, and dysfunctions?  What might have been done to save this popular innovation?

Technology: Teleworkers should not have to be electrical engineers unless they are electrical engineers and hired for this reason. The technology has to work. For good telework, the voice and data communications must work consistently, reliably, daily, and hour to hour, and at any given hour. Equipment should be pre-tested, regularly maintained, replaced on schedule, and made available or delivered out promptly, agreeably, and reliably. Bad equipment should not just be shuffled back out to the field to make some other teleworker miserable. Technology should be upgraded as the technology advances and as vulnerabilities are exposed. Teleworkers should not have to make sure the pipes and bandwidth work. Teleworkers should not have to interrupt work to play technician or work through diagnostic steps and time consuming fixes with remote technicians. Give them functional architecture and infrastructure.

Schedule: The network should be up and working when the teleworkers are reasonably expected to be working. There should be sufficient warning of regularly and conveniently scheduled maintenance, updates, upgrades, integrations of systems, and other notorious interrupters so that teleworkers can get done what they have to do during reasonable work hours. Don’t let IT schedule a major system upgrade or integration of two systems when a major work project is coming due or in the peak workflow days or seasons. The point of establishing a telework environment is not to establish department dominance but to get the work of the business done.

Security: Teleworkers should not have to choose between a secure work environment and getting the work of the business done. Security should be tested, maintained, audited, and upgraded, and it, like the technology, should work, and work well with the technology. Equipment should not grind to a halt with every upgrade, scan, or change in settings and software. Teleworkers should not have to interrupt their daily work to troubleshoot yet another software, or hardware problem. IT security seems often to become the primary security concern of the telework environment, but the protocols of the work should not be ignored. Insiders as well as outsiders may decide to profit through theft. Beyond IT security, management must be vigilant for teleworker breaches of protocol. Mistakes do result in risk of loss or loss. Breaches of protocol may actually be deliberate acts to steal or otherwise misuse the work of the business.

Teleworker Culture: The back office and ‘home office’ must facilitate the flow of teleworker production, physically and substantively. ‘Home office’ oversight should be sufficient to generally know who is working when, set milestones and goals, provide both pace and quality feedback verifiably, remotely and in person. Management must provide for and integrate teleworkers into a remote and ‘home office’ culture, neither isolating the teleworkers nor letting the teleworkers isolate themselves as individuals keep up with the daily workloads and peak periods. IT should see itself as the telework accelerator, rewarded for the efficiencies it provides and the headaches it eliminates, and not as the gatekeeper disciplining or manipulating teleworkers. Unless teleworkers actually do work for IT, they are the employees of the business, and not IT, after all.

Teleworker-IT Conflict: IT controls a multiple chokepoints in the flow of teleworker progress. Not only does IT thus have prominent power over the individual teleworker, including teams, projects, and departments, IT personnel have been known to scorn those whose technology skills do not match their own. Whether in envy or disdain, some IT personnel have indeed made mischief and others have crossed the line into crime. Critically, the ‘home office’ should watch for and take seriously indications of and complaints about IT resistance, interference, obstruction, and breaches of security and protocol.

Commit to overcoming glitches, vulnerabilities, and downright dysfunctions. Where the innovation brings real benefits, attracts talent, and reduces costs, work to resolve the negatives. Improve it don’t trash it. Expect to tweak.

© 2013 Copyright. S Caroline Schroder. All Rights Reserved.

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