Moving from panic to new-normal teleworking

Now that matters have settled down a bit from the first panic days of the Covid-19 onslaught it is time to think about getting back to some sort of normal. Specifically, how do we get from total lockdown, everybody working at home, to a new normal version of teleworking? Here are some fundamentals of the decision process.

Location independence

The first step is to analyze your and your employees’, if any, jobs. Every job comprises a series of tasks: call a customer; write a report; meet with a colleague; research a problem and so on. Some of these tasks occur daily, some occur at another regular interval, some are relatively random. Make a list of a typical week’s worth of tasks, longer if there are slow-to-repeat ones. [Note: for more details see JALA’s Telepicker page.]

Now examine each task on the list. Assign it into one of two categories: ones that depend on where you are when you do them and those that can be done essentially wherever you are, given the proper tools. The first category is the location dependent (LD) tasks and the second category is the location independent (LI) tasks. Those LI tasks constitute the basis of your teleworking. If the location dependent task list is empty then your job is potentially full-time teleworkable. That is, it’s full-time teleworkable if you have a suitable home office, but that’s another story.

Scheduling

The next step is to examine the list of LD tasks to see how adaptable they are to the work schedule. For example, if a task has a specific weekly occurrence then its existence is pretty well established. Its timing not so much. Other tasks may be more flexible in their timing. But the objective here is to clump tasks so that the LD ones, if any, are bunched into as few days per week as possible. Then the rest of the work week can be filled with LI tasks.

Be sure to consider the the tasks that ordinarily were LD before Covid — face-to-face meetings, access to specialized equipment, tasks with physical security constraints, and the like — to see if and how they can be transformed into LI tasks. But also consider that you might need some face-to-face reconnection time; time that should be scheduled, even if informally, in a telework environment. Those are the mental health LD tasks that possibly weren’t considered in compiling the LD list.

Note that you are now redesigning your job in a sense. You’re no longer doing things exactly the way you would do them in the pre-Covid office. Hopefully, the redesign will make your job more satisfying.

Run and repeat

Our past research has shown us that full-time teleworking does not suit everyone, even though many teleworkers have been thrown into it full-time. But now, as/if the crisis is less oppressive, it is time to start the transition to the new normality. As offices become reconfigured to have more distancing and include more safety measures it is possible, maybe desirable for a growing number of teleworkers to spend, on average, a day or more per week in the old office.

This will be a repetitive cycle. Try a newly reconfigured job, check the results, modify and repeat, as necessary. The combination of what works and what doesn’t will vary from office to office and group to group. Over the next several months a new normal will develop that, if not the best of all possible worlds, may be be a significant improvement over the ways things are now.

Remember, teleworking is a tool for making work life both more productive and more satisfying. Use it wisely.

2 thoughts on “Moving from panic to new-normal teleworking”

  1. While it is difficult for me to be that systematic, I am in complete agreement on the basic idea of LD and LI tasks, and thinking hard about whether some LD tasks can be moved to LI.

  2. To make it more ‘interesting’ sometimes a LD task can be LI and vice versa. For example, a routine meeting can be Zoomed to all concerned while an emergency flap may require the attendance in person of at least some of the team. In situations of uncertainty actual face-to-face may be crucial.

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