How telework can improve performance and wellbeing

Employers have been slow to adopt telework. Only about 5 percent of employees in Canada and the US work at home during regularly scheduled hours at least part of their work week. Corporate lack of enthusiasm for telework reflects the persistence of traditional approaches to organizing work and managing people – despite information technology opening new possibilities for virtual work.

Telework isn’t just another job perk. Companies need to position telework within their workforce engagement strategy, because it has good potential to improve both performance and wellbeing by giving employees greater job control.

There is lots of evidence showing that job control – essentially, being able to make decisions about how and when to work –  is associated with lower stress and better work-life balance. Because job control contributes to wellbeing, it lowers the costs associated with absenteeism, presenteeism, and health benefits. And employees who feel they can manage their job demands are more motivated and committed.

Four changes are required in management thinking and practices to achieve these payoffs.

  1. Managers must trust employees to take full responsibility for work results. No more micro-managing. And employees, for their part, have to step up to the plate and demonstrate they indeed can deliver.
  2. Any type of flexible work option can’t be imposed as a requirement. What’s important is that employees perceive they have these options available and can negotiate their use as required.
  3. Effective virtual work requires a human support system: supervisors and coworkers who provide off-site team members with the information, resources, learning opportunities and other resources required to succeed.
  4. HR professionals who develop telework policies must help employees and their supervisors take the steps needed to manage the potential for blurred boundaries between work and home.

Companies focused on cultivating their human capital recognize that an increasingly effective way to attract, retain, engage and develop talent is through a flexible approach to employment. In other words, success increasingly will depend on equating employees’ autonomy and choice with improved business results. That’s the future of telework.