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Submitted by tberge on


I am one of those lucky ones who is a personnel manager in a matrix organization.  We are in the consulting business and many of my staff are kept busy by other project managers on specific projects.  As a result, most of my staff view themselves as independent contractors and see me as simply signing their timecards and approving training.  On a side note, I have about 75% on one-on-ones, but was pressured not to force 100% to do them.

Although we do not approve of telecommuting as part of a regular schedule, we do allow it on a case by case basis (when employees or their kids are sick, those couple hours after a doctor appointment, etc.).  While I am okay with this, I have been caught off guard recently by the lack of communication about telecommuting and some of my staff just not showing up. 

One person I called to ask where she was actually said that I could have found out by "asking around the office".  [I had been at a client meeting when she came to the office and announced to coworkers that she'd be working from home/Internet cafe the rest of the day].  I almost lost it, but tried to remember that I can't give feedback unless I can smile and laugh while delivering it!

Am I just out of touch with the new age of technology by actually wanting folks a) to be in the office during normal working hours and b) communicate/request alternative schedules in advance?? 

TomW's picture
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With modern technology systems, many employees can do their work from outside the office. Not all employees and not all the time, though. A programmer working alone might be able to work from home pretty easily and get a lot done. A team leader might have a harder time being effective outside the office. That part depends on the role and the task.

It is absolutely OK to expect your team to let you know when they will not be in the office and will be working from some other location. I'd even say that it's OK to ask what they will be working on during that time and for a status update when they come back if there is any question whether they were truly working or just logged in and doing nothing.

jhack's picture

Organize the time in the office to build relationships with and among your team and colleagues. 

Many consulting firms have something like "in-the-office Fridays."  Team meetings are scheduled.  Lunch and learn sessions bring people together.  One on ones are done face to face. 

If someone's on the bench on a Tuesday, and no one else is in the office, they can do computer based training from home just fine. 

One question:  if you're a consulting firm, why isn't the staff at the customer site?  

Stop worrying about the detail (your directs must proactively let you know where they are - it has nothing to do with technology.  Give them feedback and the situation will be fine.  "...when you fail to keep me informed, I wonder if you're ready for the responsibilities that would be required at the next level...") 

Focus on what needs to be done, and the best way for that get done.  The rest follows. 

John Hack

tberge's picture
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Great advice, as always.

Our consulting is engineering based and we do not need to be onsite to perform our duties.  We'll meet with client at regular project meetings or milestones.  Many duties require equipment and programs in the office when preparing the deliverables. 

One of our company values is encouraging teamwork and camaraderie.  We have rejected recruits who wanted a regular telecommuting schedule and made a decision as a management team not to allow regular telecommuting.  We do have a team meeting every other week over lunch and have fun days once a quarter for team building. 

Thanks for the thoughts and perspective.

brioche's picture


I agree fully that it's not tolerable that some employees don't make their whereabouts totally clear to their Managers.
If someone needs to telecommute, one needs to agree this with his/her manager beforehand.
Likewise, if one is called at some place for an emergency, it is just politeness (in my opinion) to let one's manager know about it.

Now I am quite ok with telecommuting in general. I do use it myself quite a bit, and I manage a smallish IT team in a big company.
I do this on a regular schedule, two days a week generally, for two years and a half.
In order for this to work, I use these principles:

  • I am extremely transparent about my whereabouts. I.e. : When I start my working day, I post a message on our Team's internal instant-messaging channel so that they are aware of it.
    When I have lunch, even just 5 minutes, I mention it too. And when it's done, I mention it.
    When I finish my day of work, I mention it also explicitely on that same channel.
  • I make sure that I pick up my Office's phone calls.
    Having a VPN to my office helps, as I can use a VOIP software on my laptop which acts as my office's phone.
    When people call my office number, it rings on my laptop.
    When I call from my laptop, it appears as if I called from my office at the receiver's end.
    By doing this, people whom I talk to over the phone don't need to worry about my location, and I am as contactable as usual.
    Obviously, I bought myself a good headset.
  • Every single time I would have walked over someone to talk to him/her, I give a phone call instead.
    I don't replace the chat by an email or an instant-messaging. I keep the spontaneity with the phone call.
  • If I receive a phone call while I am already engaged in another phone call, I send a one-line email to the second caller so that he is aware that I am already in a conversation. This way he/she does not need to worry if I am aware of his/her call.
  • In order to show my screen to someone, I use netmeeting (yeah it's old, but it works fine and is always installed).
    And vice-versa, my co-workers show me things in the same way.
  • Generally, I do the one-to-ones when I am in the office.
  • I am expecting the same from the people working with me when they work from home.

So, it can work .

wdywft's picture

"Every single time I would have walked over someone to talk to him/her, I give a phone call instead.
I don't replace the chat by an email or an instant-messaging. I keep the spontaneity with the phone call."

I like.

jenmerkel's picture

It is very possible your employees just don't understand that it was your expectation that they obtain your approval or at least that they should notify you. Your company, no matter how large or small, should have an official policy on telecommuting. Whether it is a portion of your current company policy document or stand-alone, it is vital in communicating expectations and preventing misuse. Our company is fairly small - I put one together for us based on one I found by doing an online search. I recommend you speak to your human resources representative about the problem and ask them to implement and then communicate an official policy. If you are the HR person (as I guess I am) then talk to your superior about the issue and recommended solution.