General News,
While teleworking had been one of the fastest growing modes of commuting before the outbreak of COVID-19, many organizations are finding out the hard way the importance of supporting work from home options for employees. As state and local officials continue to roll out “stay at home” or “shelter in place” advisories, many organizations have had to assess internal capacity for long-term telework implementation with only a few days’ notice. In response, ACT’s Telework Council, hosted an informative webinar with  telework experts to help organizations prepare and adapt.

Allie Velleca, TDM Program Manager at AECOM and Vice Chair of the ACT Telework Council kicked-off the webinar by sharing her personal experience and offering key strategies for maximizing productivity. With schools and the vast majority of businesses closed there is now an added challenge for telecommuting as entire families are now home and people must now balance work with childcare. This challenge can be addressed successfully with employers understanding the unique situation and providing flexibility to employees to use the time that may have previously been used for the commute as part of their workday. This will help ensure that employees are able to step away from their work as needed, while still completing their necessary work.

Allie shared how AECOM was prepared to allow the majority of employees to telework at a moment’s notice. Since most employees have work-issued laptops, the organization was able to leverage the technology already at hand to support large-scale telework. This and established telework policies and guidelines made the transition easier for Allie and her team, and, since managers are trained to empower telework, AECOM was able to easily adapt to these new circumstances.

Joseph Kang, Enterprise Change Manager at Arlington County, gave a demonstration of how the county tracks and approves telework and flextime requests from employees and how those practices were introduced. By incorporating the identification of which employees would be eligible to work from home, Arlington County was more prepared than it would have been in the past for a more long-term and large-scale telework scenario. The county manages everything through Sharepoint and other Microsoft Office services, making it easier to access important tools and guidelines for telework. From tutorials on how to set up video calls and share desktops in Skype to guidelines on what to do when something fails, employees are provided all the tools they need to successfully work from home.

Robin Mack, CEO of Mack Global LLC and Secretary of the ACT Telework Council, laid out the key steps for organizations and employees to prepare for teleworking and how managers can foster productivity. First, an organization will need to assess the technology available or, if a teleworking policy is already in place, reassess for long-term telework. By also reassessing the eligibility of employees to telework, you also may be able to find that only a few modifications need to be made to allow previously ineligible staff to now telework—or at least allow them to telework should a similar situation to the coronavirus outbreak arise again. Organizations should also conduct stress tests to make sure that certain staff or whole groups would be able to work remotely and, if any problem areas arise, troubleshoot with experts like IT to ensure things can run smoothly in the event that teleworking is the only option.

For teleworkers and managers, Robin advised that time management and increased communication are key. Managers should focus more on results, similar to how a professor assigns a paper. The professor should not care when or where the assignment was completed and just focus on whether it was completed on time and to the set expectations.

While employers across the country have been forced to quickly launch telework programs in order to maintain operations during the COVID-19 outbreak, challenges with technology, organizational management, company culture and other issues may present themselves, especially for organizations without formally established program.  The essential things to keep in mind when starting a telework program on short notice are to use the technology available to you, start using collaborative tools (Microsoft Teams, for example) that support employee interaction, and be flexible with what your employees can do. Hopefully this experience will help organizations start to put in place permanent telework policies that offer employees flexibility and convenience, prepare organizations for future emergencies.

You can view the full webinar here and contact the ACT Telework Council here.