The Rise of the Chief Telework Officer?

Now that the Covid-induced panicky rush to working from home has died down somewhat, more organizations are thinking about naming a Chief TeleWork Officer, or Chief Remote Work Officer. The reason? Someone needs to organize and monitor the whole telework process to make it more coherent, secure and effective for the entire organization. Most large organizations have a CEO, a CFO, a CTO and a CIO to cover Executive, Financial, Technology and Information/marketing issues, respectively. Why not a CTWO?

Here are some of the areas where the CTWO should have responsibilities and authority.

  • Telework rules and regulations.
  • Facilities management
  • Technology acquisition and development
  • Personnel training and evaluation
  • Security

When we set up telework programs, at least for public agencies, we established Champions in each of the participating departments. The role of the Champions was to encourage and organize teleworking within their department, coordinate with related services, help establish the rules and regulations for telework and generally troubleshoot it. So the Champion’s office became to go-to spot for all things teleworking. I envision the Chief TeleWork Officer as that Champion’s role for the entire organization. While in our demonstration projects each Champion had other roles and responsibilities I expect that in large organizations it would be her primary job. Some details of the CTWO’s work follow.

Telework rules and regulations

In the old days, pre-Covid, we spent some time developing the rules and regulations for telework, generally in coordination with the organization’s legal department. These include such items as:

  • Acceptance/admission standards for teleworkers. This includes evaluating the amount of location-independence of the worker’s job as well as psychological/personality characteristics suitable for remote working.
  • Home environment requirements. The focus here is on assessing the suitability of the home office for uninterrupted work and freedom from obstacles and other hazards. Does the home have adequate internet access? If alterations to the home are needed, who pays?
  • Equipment and security. The main focus here is on who is responsible for what? Who owns the equipment to be used for teleworking and how is its security assured? What happens when something breaks or the internet service is interrupted? Who pays for repairs?
  • Accessibility. What days/hours should the teleworker be accessible by coworkers? On what occasions do the teleworkers need to be in the main office or other meeting place? By what means (phone, email, messaging, videoconferencing, etc.) are the teleworkers accessible?
  • Performance and evaluation. How do we evaluate a teleworker’s performance? How often do we need to evaluate performance? What are the evaluation criteria, as agreed to by both teleworker and telemanager?

Facilities management

When a large number of an organization’s employees are teleworking, management’s thoughts naturally turn to facilities costs. Why are we paying all this rent for offices that are not being used? I covered part of this issue in an earlier blog. Right now, as workers are trickling back to the office as Covid relents, a key issue is: how many information workers will there be in the office full-time, how many part time and how many will be permanent teleworkers? [My rough estimate is that 10% will be full-time at home; about 60% will evenly split time between home and office; the rest will want/need to be in the office full-time. The ratios will change according to the nature of the organization.] Coupled with that is the existing ownership and/or lease structure of the organization. [Hint: short-term ownership/leases may be much preferred these days.]

The task of the CTWO here is, in coordination with the facilities staff, to help decide what those proportions of occupancy are likely to be in the medium and long term. Furthermore there is the issue of how to allocate the retained office space: conference rooms, individual enclosed offices, communal spaces and the like. How much space is to be permanently allocated to individuals versus space-by-appointment or drop-in. Where should the facilities be located? For example, in our original telecommuting project, we focused on locating satellite offices near the residences of existing and prospective employees. For large organizations that strategy might apply on a global basis as well.

Technology acquisition and development

The task of the CTWO here is, in cooperation with the CTO and IT staff, to emphasize acquiring technology that is as transparent and secure as possible. The objective is to make intercommunication among workgroups as easy, and as rich, as if they were together in the same office — if that is their wish — when they are all actually at home. The technology available today is certainly orders of magnitude better than that available in the mid-1970s, but there is still plenty of room for growth in that area.

One major difference between a traditional office and a remote office is the need for broadband telecommunications to and among all points. Not all homes are equipped for broadband access, especially reliable broadband access. Since most contemporary information work requires internet access, its lack can be a barrier to some workers. Although this aspect may already have been shaken out since February in many organizations I expect that the demand for bandwidth, like the demand for wider freeways, will continue to grow.

Personnel training and evaluation

The task of the CTWO here is, in coordination with Human Resources, to establish the training and, possibly, the evaluation requirements for teleworkers and telemanagers. A central issue here may be the switch from management-by-looking-around (MBLA) to management-by-results-observed (MBRO). This can be a jolt for people accustomed to the clock-watching system of the past but it is a requirement for successful teleworking.

This is also a case where one-shot training may not be sufficient to cause serious culture shift. Repetition is highly recommended, with the focus on problem solving, at intervals appropriate to how well, or poorly, the previous training “takes.”

Security

Security of a distributed workforce is a multi-dimensional issue. One in which the CTWO must take part. There is the physical and information security of the:

  • Telecommunications networks;
  • Teleworkers’ homes;
  • Teleworkers’ offices and relevant equipment; and
  • Teleworkers’ families

to consider. Each of these involves its own set of issues, including who is responsible for what and what happens in case of a breach of security.

Who’s job is this?

For small organizations the CTWO’s job can be assigned as a part-time duty for any manager. As the size of the organization grows the job of CTWO also grows, to the point where it becomes full-time for one or more individuals, The person with this responsibility needs to have a fairly diverse background in order to be able to cope with tasks of this variety; a senior manager but not of the “old school.” Furthermore, the reward system must encourage the best behavior by all concerned.

One more thing

Although this is a brief overview of the work of the CTWO. there are many more details. Also, I mostly covered CTWO responsibilities here but should not omit the other prime success criterion:

The CTWO must have appropriate budgetary authority for all the areas under her/his purview.

Have a good future.

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