There are two words that characterize successful telework programs: trust and imagination. I used to use a PowerPoint slide with just those two words in my briefings to prospective teleworkers and telemanagers. The reason these two words are key is quite simple: when workers can’t see each other they must trust that their co-workers are on the same page as they are and they must use a little imagination to compensate for the lack of face-to-face contact. Building trust is the core objective of teleworker-telemanager training.
Teleworking is not the same as collocational working, mostly because of that lack of face-to-face interaction. The presumed need for face-to-face is what prompted Tom Peters’ “management by walking around” philosophy; if you make a practice of walking around — among your co-workers — you will likely quickly notice what might be going wrong as well as what’s going right. You can then capitalize on the improvements and correct any errors faster than your slugabed competitors.
But what if it is impossible to manage by walking around? What if your co-workers are somewhere else entirely? If you are a manager responsible for the efforts of others or a teleworker uncertain about your immediate job requirements — or ultimate rewards — you might feel a little increase in tension. How long can you stand it before you need to see them in person? This, of course, is the train of thought that is behind most managers’ reluctance to engage in or support telework. The inevitable: “How do I know they’re working if I can’t see them?”
Hence the importance of trust.