©copyright by Robert (Bob) W. Lucas
The changing needs of an expanding, global workplace have placed new stresses and requirements on the way "work" is perceived. They have also created a focus on providing alternative strategies for ensuring that workers and customers alike are successful in addressing their individual needs. No longer can organizations live by the philosophy of "we've always done it that way" and survive intact. Competitiveness, technology, traffic congestion, a shift in worker values, increased mobility in the society and numerous other factors are forcing an examination of the way companies and individuals do business.
Many approaches are being developed and implemented to address the perpetual evolution of the workplace. Once major shift, and a primary tool for many organizations, is to have workers telecommute or work from home. Telecommuting is a term that broadly defined means "working from a distance." Typically a person who telecommutes performs similar duties to their counterparts in an office at an organizational location, but they do it from a home office. This makes it possible for a firm like McGraw-Hill to have an office in New York while an editor lives and works in New Jersey. The quality of work doesn't suffer. On the contrary, numerous studies indicate that the quality actually goes up due to increased employee satisfaction and reduced stress.
The results of one survey released at the International Telework Association Conference in 1997 indicated that between 1990 and 1997, the number of people working as telecommuters rose from four to 11 million. Projections are that by the year 2000, that number will be more than 14 million. One reason for this trend is a strong economy, driven by low unemployment rates. To compensate, many organizations are taking advantage of alternative work patterns to lure talented employees away from competitors. Coupled with the fast pace of technology development and improvement and easy access to the Internet, the environment is ripe for further expansion of telecommuting.
Why are so many organizations exploring this radical departure from the centralized management and work concept? Quite simply, it makes a lot of sense under the right circumstances. After all, prior to industrialization, much or the work in a society was performed in the home -- farming, laundry, clothing production, medical care and so on. With the new technologies, employees can now do the work typically performed in the office at home. We now have the best of both worlds at our disposal! From a management standpoint, this shift to a less visible workforce has added another dimension to the need for effectively utilizing human resources. A primary challenge for many supervisors will be to decide how to best maintain contact with employees and to ensure performance levels are maintained. And, while this may initially be awkward, it need not be inhibiting or intimidating. Many of the skills that supervisors have garnered and enhanced over the years are still applicable; however, new ones will be needed. Now more than ever, supervisors will have to sharpen their coaching and mentoring skills in order to help train their employees to function successfully in a different environment. They will also need to strengthen their own skills in the areas of planning, organization, time management, goal setting, delegation, performance management and interpersonal communication.
For maximum effectiveness in managing a mobile workforce supervisors must approach their new role with a plan. They can do this by applying a variety of strategies.
Bob Lucas B.S., M.A., M.A, CPLP is an internationally-known author and learning and performance professional. He has written and contributed to thirtyone books and compilations. He regularly conducts creative training, train-thetrainer, customer service, interpersonal communication and management and supervisory skills workshops. Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website www.robertwlucas.com. Follow his blog at www.robertwlucas.com/wordpress and like him at www.facebook.com/robertwlucasenterprises