One issue comes up constantly: that of testing potential teleworkers to see if they would be successful teleworkers. Employers, nervous about having employees who aren’t in “the office” part of the time — or never — hope that there might be some way of testing telework candidates that will raise the likelihood of success. Psychological testing is the option most frequently proposed.
My answer is: it depends.
The need for testing, and the utility of the tests, depends on several factors. These include:
- The nature of the work to be performed, particularly its location independence;
- The length of time the employee has been with the organization;
- The need for, mode and frequency of interaction required between the teleworker, supervisor and co-workers; and
- The operational level of flexibility/adaptability of the workgroup;
- and the technological infrastructure available and competence of the workgroup in using it.
Well, that’s the short list anyway. Here’s what each of those items has to do with testing.
Of course the fundamental requirement for teleworking is that some or all of one’s work can be done anywhere. This rules out some types of surgery, farm operations, and manufacturing not yet performed by robots. It also rules out tasks where physical access to data or specialized equipment (such as Large Hadron Collider mechanic) is required. The factor to test here is whether the job under consideration has enough location independent tasks that can be bunched together in such a way as to allow teleworking some of the time. The testing here may involve some serious analysis of task flow for the job in question; task bunching for Employee A may screw things up for Employee B. Best to check beforehand.
Newbie or old timer?
I generally recommend not to give new employees telework assignments until they have been with the organization long enough to learn the ropes: their place in the hierarchy; who’s in charge of what with respect to their work; where the supplies are, and so on. That break-in period can be from a few days to several months. Traditional familiarization course may act to shorten that period. This also gives the supervisory clan a chance to scope out the new employee’s skills and personality in order to form some idea of potential teleworkability.
All this can be eliminated in cases where the employee is hired for special skills that are independent of what’s going on in the rest of the organization — an expert number cruncher for example. There is no formal test that I know of to help decide this factor.
Now that the preliminaries are covered, it’s the daily interactivity between and within workgroups that makes the organization hum — or drone. This is also a major part of JALA’s training methods. We first examine the communication patterns for each employee: with whom the employee communicates; the frequency of communication; the intent, length and urgency of each message; the modality used (face-to-face, phone, email, texting, video, etc.). The next step is to test the extent to which the face-to-face interactions can be supplanted by information technology. The goal is to discover the mix of face-to-face and technocommunications that works for all concerned. As far as I know there is no standard test for all of this.
This is the sauce that makes everything smooth or the grit that grinds it to a stop. In today’s world the ability to adapt to changing conditions is very valuable. It is particularly important for telework. Teleworkers can find themselves in situations where the usual office tools or help is not available and they must cope using whatever is at hand. They must also have or grow the ability to understand what is being said in an interaction without having all the visual cues that might help. While this can be a challenge it can also be a source of pride for accomplished teleworkers. Here is where psychometric testing can be useful as a final step in the decision process.
I put this last on the list because, in my opinion, available information technology is more that adequate for most telework situations. Capability keeps growing and prices keep dropping. The greatest problems facing teleworkers are 1) knowing when to quit work and 2) tearing themselves away for the gadgets. The lure of technology can become a self-control issue to the extent that Apple may be adding a STOP IT! warning to iOS 12.
In all of the above I assume that the factors presented are included in the training given to the selected teleworkers. The better teleworkers are trained the better they perform and thrive. May you telework in peace and harmony.