11 years, 2 months ago

Telework Talk is Too Extreme

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The news that two major technology companies are summoning their teleworkers back to the office revealed people hold strong opinions about where employees should work and why. I’m hearing a lot of all or nothing thinking behind the telework talk.

Some contend that corralling employees into one location is critical to create a culture that breeds innovation. It’s why some companies invest millions of dollars in fostering “fun” work environments that cater to the professional as well as the personal needs of employees.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the pundits who proclaim employees should wield the power to decide. They don’t mind if employees exist as far-flung satellites that never come together in the same room as long as the work gets done and the collaboration tools are effective.

Taking extreme views on either side of this spectrum isn’t the answer. We need a blended approach to where and how people work that takes into account the complexities faced today.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in telework. As a consultant, I travel the globe. I have to engage my clients, co-workers and staff while I’m on the go. I’m also extremely productive at my home office or in a coffee shop, as are introverts who crave quiet and need solitude to create. In fact, more right-brained or knowledge workers excel when they are autonomous.

That being said, I also believe in the power of in-person communication. Sometimes you just have to bring people together in the same room. Extroverts certainly don’t mind. They plug into others like batteries to generate ideas.

In fact, the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 860 business executives from around the world and 75% believe that in-person collaboration is critical to solving increasingly complex business challenges. 82% felt they were better understood after in-person encounters.

What I found most useful about this survey is that it outlined the specific situations when face-to-face engagement is called for. Examples included:

  • project kick-offs
  • initial meetings
  • brainstorming new ideas and innovations
  • managing problems with many others
  • crisis management
  • coaching team members
  • contract renewals
  • strategic planning or discussion
  • meeting new clients
  • co-development of project plans
  • contract agreements or expansions

Instead of blanket teleworking bans, we need to put triggers in place that unite people under one roof when it’s right. The above list is a great place to start.

I plan to make this the first post in a series on designing the workplace of the future. Are there certain topics you would like to see tackled?

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