March 22, 2015

Telecommuting Tool Kit: Trends, success factors, legal issues & more

Telecommuters, flexible workplace, distributed workforce or remote workers: - whatever name you choose to call it, it's a trend that's growing in leaps and bounds. According to Global Workforce Analytics, about 3.3 million people in the U.S. work from home as their primary place of business - and that doesn't include the self-employed for volunteers. While there are no reliable statistics about the number of people who work from home on a less frequent basis, Global Workplace Analytics estimates the number could be as high as 25 million.

It's no secret why it's a popular alternative for employers and employees alike. Just a few of the benefits include flexibility and satisfaction for employees who don't have to spend time commuting; reduced overhead costs for employers; access to a larger talent pool; and an increase in worker satisfaction leading to greater productivity and reduced turnover. See an extensive list of telecommuting benefits, advantages and considerations for employers.

Recently, Harvard Business Review blogs featured two articles on telecommuting and ways to make it work. We'll offer a brief overview of both, along with a variety of other links and tools that we think might be helpful to any employers who currently have remote workers or are considering adopting telecommuting.

Why Remote Work Thrives in Some Companies and Fails in Others
Sean Graber asks, "Has remote work lived up to the hype?" He answers yes, in some companies, and offers two examples of two: Automattic (the creator of WordPress) and the U.S. government. The former is a completely distributed model, and the latter is selective by department.

"Why are some organizations reaping benefits but others not? Conditions are seemingly ideal: More and more people are choosing to work remotely. By one estimate, the number of remote workers in the U.S. grew by nearly 80% between 2005 and 2012. Advances in technology are keeping pace. About 94% of U.S. households have access to broadband Internet — one of the most important enablers of remote work. Workers also have access to an array of tools that allow them to videoconference, collaborate on shared documents, and manage complex workflows with colleagues around the world.
How tools are changing the way we manage, learn, and get things done. So what’s the problem? The answer is simple: Many companies focus too much on technology and not enough on process. This is akin to trying to fix a sports team’s performance by buying better equipment. These adjustments alone might result in minor improvements, but real change requires a return to fundamentals."

He suggests three critical success factors or principles that must be in place, and elaborates on each: Communication, Coordination, Culture. There are tools and technologies that enable these and he suggests some. The trickiest might be creating a cohesive culture, which some organizations address by an initial in-house orientation and periodic in-person meetings; other organizations use social share tools to foster culture.

5 Basic Needs of Virtual Workforces
Randy Rayess offers three examples of tech companies with "distributed workforces" - he also includes Automattic. He notes:

"In our experience at VenturePact, telecommuters tend to be self-starters and quick learners. You don’t have to micromanage them, just provide clear, high-level direction. But there are some common pain points. In a 2014 Robert Half Technology survey of U.S.-based CIOs, 30% said communication was their greatest remote management challenge, followed by productivity (22%) and technology (22%). Focusing on a few principles can help address these challenges"
He identifies 5 key principles and a discussion about each: Convenience, Transparency, Accountability, Communication and Trust.

Telecommuting tools

Should You Hire Remote Workers? - Neil Patel, Forbes

Workers Without Borders: Managing the Remote Revolution - Anthony Smith, Entrepreneur

10 Tips for Making Telecommuting Work - Stephen Bruce, HR Daily Advisor

7 Mistakes Managers Make When Managing Remote Workers - Anita Bruzzese, The Fast Track

Employment Law Issues

Time to Tackle Telecommuting - Employment Law Attorney Jon Hyman, Workforce

Telecommuting—Great, But Watch These Legal Pitfalls - - Stephen Bruce, HR Daily Advisor

Do Your Employees Telecommute? You Should Know… Lance Godard, JDSUPRA

Tech Tools

10 tools for more productive telecommuting - PCWorld

17 Tools for Remote Workers - Kevan Lee, FastCompany

Telecommuting Tools

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March 21, 2015

Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity

"If we want to build organizations that can innovate time and again, we must unlearn our conventional notions of leadership."

That's one of the opening premises that Linda Hill puts forth in her TED talk on How to manage for collective creativity. Ms. Hill is a Harvard professor and co-author of "Collective Genius." She spent nearly a decade observing leaders of innovation in some of the world's most creative companies like Pixar and Google. She talks about what she learned about how they use a set of tools and tactics to keep great ideas flowing — from everyone in the company, not just the designated "creatives."

For an alternate video source and for an interactive transcript, view this talk at the TED site. How to manage for collective creativity

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July 16, 2014

The problem(s) with meetings

When business meeting really click, they can be a thing of beauty, but all too often, they are the bane of corporate existence. - the communication tool we all love to hate. Bad meetings can be very costly - use this simple meeting ticker for a rough cost - or get the Cost of Meeting App (COMA). It can help to analyze common reasons why meetings fail and study experts for tips for more effective meetings.

We think we have found the ultimate cure for the bad or wasteful meeting.

The following infographic offers some ugly truths about meetings -- and of course, we had to follow it with the video clip, Conference Call in Real life (which, if you haven't seen it, well you simply must.)


May 5, 2013

Princesses only: Ordinary women need not apply

An interesting historical employment document has been circulating on the web recently - a 1938 job rejection letter from Walt Disney Studios to an aspiring young female animator. It's of interest because the reason for the candidate's rejection is simply that the candidate was a woman, and as the letter states, "women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen." The beautifully preserved letter on vintage letterhead goes on to say that the work is performed entirely by young men, and therefore, "girls are not considered for the training school."

For related documents that depict the role of women in the workplace, see our posts on the 1943 Disney Handbook and Danger: Women at Work, a WWII era training clip.

In fairness to Disney, job discrimination against women was the order of the day 75 years ago ... in fact, a lot more recently than that. Employment listings were routinely categorized as "male" or "female" jobs and a job candidate's sex was routinely used as a reason for rejection. In reading historic documents, sex discrimination was actually added to the EEOC as a "poison pill" that many thought might doom the legislation:

"...After all, the prohibition against sex discrimination had been added as a last minute amendment by Congressman Howard Smith of Virginia who opposed the civil rights legislation and thought that Congress would reject a bill that mandated equal rights for women.
Indeed, most supporters of Title VII initially opposed the Smith amendment because they, too, thought that it would doom the legislation. The amendment stayed in because female members of Congress argued that there was a need to protect equal job opportunities for women. Congresswoman Katherine St. George of New York argued that she could think of "nothing more logical than this amendment" and that while women did not need any special privileges "because we outlast you, we outlive you, . . . we are entitled to this little crumb of equality." The need for this "little crumb of equality" was dramatically illustrated by the unexpectedly large number of sex discrimination charges filed in that first year."

For more on job discrimination and the early years of laws prohibiting such discrimination, see the EEOC's 35th Year Anniversary 1965-2000

October 9, 2011

Is your job misunderstood?

Last month, The Atlantic had a fascinating feature on jobs as part of their Labor Day roundup on work-related articles. They asked readers to "tell us what people don't get or don't appreciate about your job." They culled out an A to Z encyclopedia of reader responses and served them up in an article: What people don't get about my job: From A(rmy soldier) to Z(ookeeper). Ranging from an IRS employee to a bass player and everything in between, some people offer pithy one liners and others offer short essays. Together, they offer a pastiche of the American workforce.

It occurred to us that a larger company could engage in a similar exercise in the company newsletter too - we've all worked in places where the jobs vary considerably, and one department has minimal understanding of what other departments do. Why not offer employees a platform to talk about what's misunderstood or under-appreciated about the role they play in your organization?

Along the same line as The Atlantic feature, a question was posted to the help board Ask Metafilter: "What is the first question people ask when you tell them what you do? Are there common misconceptions or generalizations that people make? How do you tactfully and/or humorously correct them? For example: "So, you're a linguist eh? How many languages do you speak?""

The query elicited 156 far-ranging responses, but we warn you, it's addictive reading (and be aware there is the occasional use of a four-letter expletive).

We didn't see much about human resources, but Susan Heathfield of' Human Resources offers Seven Reasons HR Is Often Misunderstood. But when it comes to truth and myths about the HR Field, no one says it better than the kids in this humorous commercial.

August 5, 2011

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Alain de Botton, renowned essayist, philosopher and founder of The School of Life, examines the nature and function of work. Most of our waking hours are spent at work, and yet we rarely challenge the basic assumptions that lie behind this time-consuming, life-altering activity. A thoughtful and entertaining talk - don't miss the part about HR Departments (from about 13:15 to about 17:00)

March 8, 2011

A focus on women in the workplace - now and then

This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and today is the start of a series of commemorative global events that will continue through the month. The UN Has identified this year's theme as: Equal access to education, training and science and technology."

The Division of Labor has issued a special statistical focus on Women At Work. It encompasses a lot of interesting data about working women - here are a few highlights:

  • In 2009, 59 percent of working-age women in the United States were in the labor force. This percentage has increased from 43 percent four decades ago.
  • By 2010, nearly 65 million women had jobs, and 53 percent of these women worked in the three industries that employed the most women: education and health services; trade, transportation, and utilities; and local government.
  • The ratio of women's to men's earnings, for all occupations, was 81.2% in 2010. The ratio varies by occupation. In occupations such as personal financial advisors, retail salespersons, insurance sales agents, and lawyers, for example, the earnings ratios are lower than the overall ratio of women’s to men’s earnings. In occupations such as stock clerks and order fillers, bill and account collectors, and combined food preparation and serving workers, women earn more than men.

We thought it might be fun to take a look back and found a few clips that give an idea of just how far women have come over the last generation or two. If you are at or around boomer age, these clips may not be totally surprising, but they should be pretty mind blowing for anyone of younger generation! (Ladies, go home and thank your Moms and Aunts for paving the way to a more egalitarian landscape.)

The first clip is a training film from 1944 entitled "Supervising Women Workers" - obviously a special challenge!

In "The Trouble With Women," a clip from 1959, we see that a decade and a half didn't do much to enlighten male supervisors about how to deal with female workers.

November 27, 2010

Why work doesn't happen at work

Have you ever thought about the parallels between sleep and work? Jason Fried has, and in his recent 15-minute TED talk, he makes the case for why the workplace keeps getting in the way of worker productivity. He offers three concrete suggestions for shaking things up.

Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals , a Chicago-based company that builds web-based productivity and collaborative tools, which are well worth exploring.

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