There is a famous dictum in implementing Quality initiatives, that the three biggest barriers to quality are the managers, the managers and the managers. Harsh as it may sound, something similar could be said about Teleworking. The technical answers can always be found, and the volunteer Teleworkers are usually sound - the element with the biggest challenge appears to be the managers.

Managing at a distance puts a premium on people management skills, particularly the interpersonal variety. Just as the Teleworker has to apply new skills and competencies, so the manager of Teleworkers needs to adjust the way the manage. The evidence of many an exasperated manager challenged by the demands of Teleworking is that they " can't control " the staff whilst they can't see them. And they are right.

Teleworkers cannot be controlled, in the old ways. Their work can't be managed by their managers, because they are managing it themselves. The manager must concentrate not on the inputs but the outputs of the worker. To the manager's question " How do you manage a Teleworker ?", I reply " How do you manage a manager ?". The situations are very analogous, manager and Teleworker both have responsibility to deliver results given a designated resource. They are both assumed to be properly resourced, trained and supported to achieve that result, and if they are not whose responsibility is it ? The manager.

The Teleworking relationship can only work in a spirit of empowerment, in which the worker behaves somewhat like a self-employed person, paid for their output, not the amount of time spent at the workbase. It is like the difference between earning a fee as opposed to getting a wage. This supposes a fundamental change in the relationships and cultures of organisations. It appears that failure to address these issues leads to the failure of Teleworking initiatives.

Two other topics demand attention in this phase ;

Teleworking cannot simply be grafted onto an existing management culture. Organisations where this has been tried have reported significant personal and organisational difficulties when the needs of the new ways of working have clashed with traditional methods and practices.

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Last Updated on 11 December 2002 by COLIN TIERNEY