Technology, practices and protocols – why the time is right for teleworking
Teleworking can be a game changer for regional Australia. The economic and environmental benefits of large scale teleworking are becoming clearer, particularly in regional areas as it can increase the number of people employed in high skill, high wage jobs while enjoying the lifestyle benefits of a regional home. So why hasn’t teleworking taken off?
The two main challenges voiced by employers (1) and employees (2) are:
1. Accountability – “how do I know my staff member is working productively when they are not at their desk in my office?”, and;
2. The absence of collegiate ambience – “Working remotely is lonely”.
Geoff Hudson-Searle is an international business leader who has deconstructed these problems to come up with a framework that uses today’s technologies to rethink the way it can work.
Geoff’s view is that teleworking and telecommuting have not yet been tried properly. So far the most common approach relies on out-of-office workers calling in by phone or video conference, especially for meetings. Teleworking has not sought to replicate the whole-of-office environment by connecting a series of separate places. Teleworking trials have failed as they have tried to solve the problem of one team talking to another (group video conferences), rather than one person talking to another. The latter problem is easier to solve. And mixing the problems has given teleworking its bad reputation.
By directly addressing the problem of one colleague talking to another while in different places, today’s technologies can make it much easier for someone to work all day from a remote setting and still be part of the team. This is very different to dialling in for occasional meetings.
The key to making the remote worker part of the day-to-day team is using technology to validate the remote worker’s presence at their desk, and to enable moment-by-moment interaction with their colleagues. This can be implemented by smart use of smart technology, and bringing to this virtual connection the same (invisible) protocols we use in our offices already.
First, the technology. The remote worker needs to see their own screen and also images of other people. ‘Always on’ multi-display works well here, with the remote worker dialling and signing on to the central computer at the start of the work day. Remote access will be controlled by security validation. Composite images can then be gathered and managed at the central point, and transmitted to each remote and on-site worker. Image exchange enables different people to be seen as necessary and appropriate – under the protocols below.
Second, the practices and protocols. Geoff has scrutinised the workplace, social and technological barriers to effective teleworking, and has come up with a series of principles and protocols to guide these machine and human interactions.
1. Video image always transmitted to work when active (security and accountability);
2. No spying – subject notified when image transmitted;
3. Team member images shared when actively involved (still or video);
4. Can turn down volume of team ambience, but your image on their screens will reflect that;
5. ‘Knock knock’ protocol needs to be an audible signal of a request for a 1-to-1 conversation (identifying who is ‘knocking’). Recipient able to accept or postpone (with reason) the request;
6. Acceptance puts your screen aside and the image of the visitor front and centre. If the visitor is in the team then the audio is sent to others in the team too. If not in team, then that conversation blocks other team chat and is private from team;
7. Option to share screens and share control via mouse/keyboard;
8. Whole team meeting once a day – one person speaks at a time; and
9. Go to the office once a week – late start and early finish to deal with longer ‘commute’ time. Time can be made up on other days (which are expected to be longer).
These protocols are designed to address the problems with teleworking as viewed from both the employer and employee perspectives. They make use of available technologies to enable a remote worker to be a fully accountable and contributing member of the work team. It’s only the systems we use that need a little change – the technological framework is no longer the constraint.
As we consider the future of work for regional Australia, it’s time to rethink teleworking – we know the payoffs will be substantial.
Have you or your workplace had positive experiences with teleworking? Contact us and share your story.