Teleworking does not have any negative impact on a business leaders’ performance or communication effectiveness, according to new research from London, Ont.-based Richard Ivey School of Business.
The business school, which operates out of The University of Western Ontario, studied the effect of remote working arrangements on 138 employees working for 41 different business leaders across a variety of Canadian enterprises. Derrick Neufeld, an associate professor of information systems at the business school, said the results indicate transformational leaders — who, he said, display strong role modeling, coaching and creative problem-solving skills — can successfully manage remote employees regardless of distance.
“We found that distance doesn’t matter as long as the leaders are good communicators,” he said. “Transformational leaders inspire greatness, focus on coaching and intellectually stimulate their employees.”
On the flipside, Neufeld found that transactional leaders spent far too much time basing their decision-making on contracts and performance levels. “Transformational leaders always out-perform transactional leaders in remote working arrangements,” he added.
While these finding are important for business executives, IT professionals should also take note.
Jennifer Perrier-Knox, a senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., agreed with the Ivey school’s findings, but added that good communication is a two-way street.
“It rests not only on the communication skills of the leader, but also of the employees working remotely,” she said.
Unfortunately, Perrier-Knox said, telework is moving forward in many Canadian enterprises without proper communications skills and IT policies. She said HR departments have to be more involved in identifying suitable employees, and IT shops must play a significant role in providing the tools and tech support to remote staff.
Some applications, such as Microsoft’s SharePoint, bring quality and availability headaches to remote staff and the IT departments tasked with servicing them, she said. In order to solve this issue, IT must ensure the right networking technologies are implemented and tech support becomes more readily available to remote workers.
“We should see the return of good, old-fashioned tech support,” Perrier-Knox said. When enough workers in an organization are teleworking, IT departments should consider making house calls to home offices.
“It might actually be cheaper to have somebody do this,” she added.
For many in management positions, telework requires a leap of faith or an inherent trust in the employees’ discipline to work without supervision. But for others, instant messaging and collaboration tools that enable and monitor ongoing communications between managers and employees are mandatory. Telework programs can be seen as a failure, even if work is getting done, without some sort of accountability.
“Companies shouldn’t measure employee productivity by doing attendance, but (should) have another means by which to validate work output,” said Lawrence Imeish, principal consultant for IT services firm Dimension Data PLC.
While instant messaging and other social communication technologies will do a good job of allowing remote works to stay in touch, Imeish said that enterprises will also want to set policies for checking back in to company headquarters.
– With files from Denise Dubie, Network World U.S.