Monthly Archives: May 2008

Challenges Facing Teleworkers

Teleworkers are responsible for delivering software solutions, similar to those of us who commute to the office each and every day.  The difference is that the teleworker is a member of a virtual team and collaborates with team members by relying on chat, video, and voice technologies towards delivering software or other information based services and solutions.

The list of challenges facing teleworkers are rooted in three dimensions. First is the reality that he or she may have too little or too much of the discipline it takes to be effective in a remote setting. For example, the teleworker may not be effective in isolation from the team, or may work doubly hard to prove their effectiveness. The second dimension is the perception from collocated team members that the teleworker has a desirable and enviable position.  Here we see effectiveness and accomplishments of the teleworker being diminished by any lingering resentment from team members not in a position to telework themselves. The third dimension of challenges facing teleworking professionals is the reality that collaborating and ensuring unambiguous interpretation across geographic boundaries, cultures and timezones is just plain difficult.

With that in mind, the challenges facing the teleworker include:

  • Work/Life Balance
  • Trust
  • Envy
  • Team Intimacy
  • Visibility
  • Effectiveness

Work/Life Balance

Depending on the characteristics of the work and team, teleworkers may find it difficult to draw clear lines between their personal and professional lives. First, teleworkers may try to overproduce in order to prove their worth and effectiveness, or may simply need to work more in order to overcome any ineffectiveness resulting from their remoteness from the team. In cases where the teleworker is a member of a virtual team, where members may span timezone and countries, teleworkers may be tempted to work the timezone of the team members they want to impress the most. These tendencies lead to longer hours at the computer, and the blurring of the line that divides professional and personal life.

Trust

The level of trust in any relationship can determine its growth potential. The same goes for the relationship between a teleworker and his team. Depending on team dynamics, prolonged periods without face-to-face communication will have an adverse effect on trust. Teleworkers should schedule recurring face-to-face meetings between themselves and other team members, preferably in person meetings, however video conferencing can serve as a effective alternative.

The quality of a teleworker’s performance and deliverables will impact the level of trust between them and the rest of the team. Repeatedly missing deadlines, not following what was asked of them, or in general producing low-quality deliverables will erode the trust of others.

Envy

Virtual teams composed of a mix between colocated members and teleworkers will most likely experience envy or resentment directed towards teleworkers. This is a natural consequence resulting from the effort colocated members expend to be physically present with customers, project stakeholders, and fellow employees on a daily basis, and the general lack of such effort from teleworking professionals. These sentiments can begin to erode Trust unless teleworkers continuously prove their value to their team.

Team Intimacy

By team intimacy I mean the level of concern member feels to one-another’s professional needs.  Intimacy can be a critical element towards ensuring the success for any project as it helps build trust. A teleworker may struggle to find the required level of intimacy with his or her team and must therefore make a conscious and creative effort to consistently reach out through voice, video and chat technologies.

Visibility

The old adage “Out of sight, out of mind” can apply to teleworkers as well.  Even highly-effective teleworkers who would otherwise be the goto person in a colocated settings, can be forgotten once they find themselves in a teleworking arrangement. If the teleworker has a clear specialization, his or her visibility to other team members will probably remain high. If instead the teleworker has a less specialized skillset, visibility will suffer as managers and other team members rely on skills from colocated colleagues first. Timezone differences can further complicate the teleworker’s Work/Life Balance as he or she attempts to increase visibility by adjusting to the traditional working hours of colocated colleagues.

Effectiveness

The absence of commute time and common office distractions can cause a teleworker to be significantly more productive when compared to a colocated colleague. The challenge is having the required Trust, and Visibility from other team members to ensure a steady stream of work as well as the open communication channels to ensure continuous feedback for the task at hand while helping boost effectiveness.

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