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Teleworking Requires Skills

Under normal circumstances, one would not simply decide, “Hmm, I think I’ll work from home from now on." In fact, very few of us would decide to work from home full-time, along side another teleworker, one or more homeschooling children, and a menagerie of pets. Telework takes planning, the right set up and, perhaps most importantly, the right skills to be most effective. If you didn’t have them before the whole world switched to teleworking overnight, you’ve probably started developing these skills in the past while.

Let’s check in on what the most effective teleworkers know how to do well.

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Lonien

Skill #1: Communication

Effective teleworkers use a lot of modes of communication (sometimes all at the same time). Different modes of communication achieve different ends. Teleworkers know when to pick up the phone (the actual phone). Or text. Or if an email trail is what’s needed in a particular situation. They also attend the ‘ratio of business-to-personal communication’. In some ways, teleworking has helped people connect on a more personal level (e.g. when your colleagues hear your dog bark or catch you in your PJs in the afternoon, it can help nurture the human connection that makes working effectively together that much easier and more fun). Great teleworkers are great at checking in. Be it standing check-in meetings or more spontaneous shout-outs, they use check-ins to stay on the same page with their boss and team.

Skill #2: Organization and Discipline

Teleworkers have to be organized and disciplined. While it’s a common stereotype that a teleworker is a parent juggling care for a small child while also trying to fit in a few minutes of work here or there (this is probably a forced reality for many of us right now), effective teleworkers have appropriate childcare arrangements that allow them to focus on work and they set hours for themselves or work an agreed upon schedule (though this schedule can be anything but traditional). They are good at boundary setting. They are clear about work expectations and timelines and good at meeting these. They also have the appropriate physical space and resources set up to help them work effectively.

Skill #3: Tech Savvy

Great teleworkers are probably more than a little bit tech savvy. They often work in different settings on different days and, in doing so, have to navigate different technologies to do the same work depending on where they are working. They also have to contend with firewalls and data security measures that are seamless and hidden behind the scenes in the corporate office, but add additional layers of effort for accessing work at home. This tech savviness also helps them work with diverse others who have various levels of comfort with and definitive preferences for different technology solutions for their collaborative projects. Great teleworkers are going to meet them where they are from a tech standpoint. They don’t use Zoom or GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts - they use Zoom AND GoToMeeting AND Google Hangouts AND whatever else you throw their way.

Skill #4: Experiment... and Fail.

Terrific teleworkers have the ability to experiment…and fail. Teleworking requires balancing self-disciple with flexibility. A willingness to try something and, when that doesn’t work, try something else. To agree to deliverables, deadlines, and schedules, but also to be able to recognize what’s not working and reconsider any and all plans. Skilled teleworkers have back-up plans whenever possible… and a bias for action. Experimenting, failing and re-doubling efforts takes us full circle back to skill #1 – the importance of exceptional communication.

So, now you’ve tried telework… and you’ve found 1) You like it a lot or you can see it working well under better conditions and 2) You can be really productive working this way. You might want to find some subtle, or not so subtle, ways to let your colleagues know that this is going really well for you. Point out how much you are accomplishing during that time when you’d still be driving to work, or how you’ve been able to use your best energy for important tasks when you get to decide how and where they get done. Mention how you are getting a reboot during your lunchtime walk that allows you to come back to work refreshed just like starting the workday over. Now is the time to build up a reputation for being a great teleworker... later, when we are all invited back to the office, you might want to ask for a new normal that includes some telework or another kind of flexibility. Be ready to make a case for the triple win (how teleworking is good for your work, good for those you work with and good for you).

A Note for Leaders

Managing teleworkers is another skill. If you supervise the work of others and you’ve been doing so remotely recently, you’ve probably also been practicing new leadership skills. Effectively managing teleworks – that’s a whole other blog. But, in short, you’ll want to communicate frequently with your employees about goals, deadlines and expectations. Think in terms of results – are employees meeting their goals - rather than when or where they are achieving them. Role model good practices. Support your employees by making sure they have the resources and tools they need to do their work. You may not be able to remove all of the obstacles they have in their path to goal attainment right now, but, when you can’t, you can offer them understanding in lieu of solutions as a temporary fix. Lastly, don’t be surprised when your employees have found that they are more productive and more effective working from home and want to continue to do so, some or all of the time, once life has returned to normal. This global pandemic will end, but there will be a new normal, not a shift back into old habits that were never ideal for everyone. Take this opportunity to gain new leadership skills… you’ll probably still use them after this is all over.

Find additional resources on telework here.

Stay well and find something to laugh about.


Heather Cluley, Ph.D. is the Associate Director in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Learn more about her here!​

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