Are telecommuters making your life more difficult?

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Question: "The people I assist have started to work at home at least one and sometimes two days a week, and often come in at unusual hours because they’ve been putting time in outside the office. They always rave about how much they can get done without distractions—but I can’t tell you how many times I have to go without answers or important discussions because they’re being so “productive” at home. Sometimes I even fall behind on deadlines waiting for them to finally show up. Is anyone but me getting kind of fed up with this trend?” – Jodie, HR Assistant

See comments below, and send your own question to Admin-Pro@nibm.net.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Heidi Williams October 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm

What about Skype as an answer for personal back and forth conversations? Video chatting or conferencing may be the next best thing instead of the telephone or an email. Set up weekly 1:1′s. Just a thought.

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T. H. November 6, 2013 at 10:17 am

Skype is a great idea. At my company you have to request special access, and it’s an excellent tool to get some face to face time with remote staff. One thing is for sure, telecommuting is here to stay, so we need to find creative solutions to overcome any challenges it presents. With the multitude of ways to communicate these days (email, voicemail, IM, Skype, teleconference calls, webinars… what have you) I find it odd that the telecommuter should have such a problem in providing needed information. In my situation, if I have proof that I have been flexible and attempted to communicate with an individual multiple ways and they are still causing missed deadlines because they are unresponsive when out of the office… I’m in a better position to backup my concerns when I express them to their supervisor… or my supervisor! We all report to someone. Missed deadlines usually require an explanation.

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Melodie Turk September 30, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Telecommuting is a contraversial topic to be sure. I find that some people are cut out for it and some are not. But for sure, working from home should come with a way to contact the person. With all the ways to get a hold of people (instant message, email, text, twitter, etc.) there really is no excuse for not responding.

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Angela September 30, 2013 at 11:23 am

I am generally supportive of flexible work arrangements, including working from home. Technology now offers people the ability to answer their work line from home and be connected online with email and IM just as if they were sitting in the office. The two pet peeves I have with people working from home are 1. it’s tougher for them to physically track down their manager if I need to locate them and 2. if their onsite manager or team needs something phsyical (photocopies, lunch, etc) then they have to ask another assistant who is onsite to handle.

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Ava September 27, 2013 at 10:51 am

When people work at home they put us in a weird position because it’s so much easier to stop by an office and say something than make a phone call, which is more intrusive. It’s just harder to work with someone who’s not there. So I would agree that even when deadlines are still getting met, someone’s paying a price for their schedule.

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Len September 27, 2013 at 10:48 am

I sympathize! Phone calls and emails are just not the same as standing with someone and having a real back and forth about something that needs to be done, and you shouldn’t have to wonder where anyone is. I hate it when I send someone an email and I just sit there and wait, and wait. They say they’re working at home, but you just know that the temptation is there to pop out for a quart of milk real quick, or do some laundry. And the answers that do come aren’t real discussions so that leads to more emails…. at some point you just write the person off and deal with the issues when they actually show up!

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Kathy September 27, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Agree. I’ve had them contact me after hours of waiting for a response. I get “is this something I can take care of tomorrow, when I am in the office”? Thought telecommuting was suppose to be transparent like the person isn’t even gone. Right, it’s a bit of a joke.

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Theresa Kasel September 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Does your company have a policy on availability for telecommuters? There has to be a way to communicate with them.

If you are sending them email requests, they should be able to respond appropriately. Do they respond to emails when they are in the office? If they do, then they need to do the same when working from home.

If you need to hold an actual conversation, all telecommuters should have a phone number (either cell or their home landline) that you can call and discuss issues with them. If your company doesn’t require this, ask if this can be put in place.

Make sure that urgent issues are truly urgent — and things that you’ve put off requesting so that they have become urgent.

If you are doing all of the above, then it’s time to have one-on-one discussions with the telecommuters who can’t meet deadlines and telecommute. Work with these employees to develop a system that will ensure you get the information you need in a timely manner.

If that doesn’t work, it’s time to discuss the problem with the telecommuter’s supervisor.

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Rita September 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm

In our agency, if telecommuters are not meeting deadlines, or responding to requests for information, their “approval” to telecommute is rescinded. I realize that you are probably not in a position to discipline co-workers, but try going up the chain of command. If someone hasn’t met a deadline, try contacting their supervisor to see if, perhaps, the information was relayed to that person, and is now sitting in their in-basket. Perhaps the supervisor can answer your questions. If nothing else, the supervisor will be put on notice that their staff need to be more available to you.
Deadlines imply that work has to be completed by a particular date/time for whatever reason. Unmet deadlines can effect your bottom line, and someone has to be in charge of making sure each department is compliant with those deadlines. I’d say that this problem needs to be addressed by their supervisor(s) or department heads.

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