Is teleworking putting pressure on managers?

Lockdown forced many companies to resort to teleworking. Three in four staffers found it OK. Now that people are slowly returning to the office “workplace”, a number of comments on teleworking are appearing. Some people see it as a real revolution bringing productivity gains and management innovation. Others fear a breakdown of interaction at the workplace or even an unwanted invasion of one’s job into one’s home life. Between these two extremes, what has teleworking contributed and what can one imagine to be its future? Here are the beginnings of an answer based on a real case: ours!

What is certain is that teleworking works!

Even though Gerep is organised to carry on providing its services, no one could have imagined a full-scale crash test involving 100% of staff would be forced upon us for two months. The results of this one-off experience leave no doubt. Teleworking enabled us to maintain services without losses, without a fall in quality or productivity. Even better, a large majority of our people appreciated the experience: fewer constraints, greater flexibility in organising one’s time, better reconciliation of business life with personal life, and, obviously uncountable time savings and reduction in the stress caused by commuting. Now that people are coming back gradually to the office we have noticed something else: the offices are quieter, open spaces are more airy, and the problem of where to put newly-hired staff is a thing of the past. In short, teleworking has solved a number of problems.

Our wish: take it further

Teleworking was handled carefully before the health crisis but is now taken for granted. It used to be the exception, but now teleworking has become the norm…but in reasonable proportions so staff do not get to feel isolated, out of touch with management and service quality does not fall away imperceptibly. Here at Gerep there is no question of perpetuating the system that emerged during the health crisis. The generalisation of teleworking will be on the basis of one or two days a week, on a rotation system ensuring a minimum presence at the office. In order to facilitate induction, remote working will not concern new recruits during their first 6 months. Furthermore, working conditions at home – devices used, Internet connexion, work space, availabilities – will need to be examined with attention so that teleworking does not become a trap for the employee. Finally, moving over to full teleworking from one week to the next was possible because the mechanics had been prepared long time in advance: server adaptations, group project management tools, remote communication tools, individual PCs…In such an emergency, everyone got to grips with these tools as best they could. However, the generalisation of teleworking will mean implementing precise formal processes applicable to all managers.

One point of vigilance: the line manager

The benefit of teleworking in terms of quality of work life leaves no doubt. Nevertheless, managers and in particular line managers find themselves faced with new challenges. How to make sure that information circulates properly, that messages are understood by everyone in the same way, and are fully understood? How to monitor a staff member’s remote work and act as guarantor of his/her efficiency? How to stimulate helping out amongst staff, the sharing of competences – the company’s DNA? This is the challenge brought by organising new working methods around collaborative tools. Traditionally, management relied on informal contacts, intuition. Not seeing the staff member’s face any more, not hearing him/her answering the phone, means the manager has to change how he/she operates. From now on, a manager must train people in autonomy rather than controlling work done, they must pass down messages differently, plan for improvised discussions over a coffee or in a corner of the office. These changes in a manager’s now more complex role will require support and special training. If the line manager loses out on the introduction of generalised teleworking then it is the whole organisation that will suffer.

Willy Meuret