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Keys for effective teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic

GENEVA, Switzerland, (ILO News) —  The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that more people than ever before are teleworking – using information and communications technologies to do their work away from the office. International Labour Organization (ILO) working time expert, Jon Messenger, explains how to get the best out of teleworking.

While telework is typically used for limited periods, normally one or two days per week, many workers are now teleworking full-time to cut down the risk of contracting the virus. All those who perform work that is compatible with teleworking arrangements should be eligible to telework during this crisis, including those in temporary employment and interns.

Teleworking is not suitable for all circumstances or all types of positions. Nonetheless, if telework is practised correctly, it can be an important component of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic .

Here are a few practical tips to make teleworking as effective as possible.

  • Management Support – from top management to frontline supervisors. Research has shown that managerial resistance to telework is a major barrier to its effective practice. The effective management of teleworkers requires a results-based management approach. This involves identifying objectives, tasks, and milestones, and then monitoring and discussing progress without overly burdensome reporting requirements. Also, with many schools and day care facilities now closed, it is important to factor in some adjustments in performance targets for those teleworkers with care responsibilities.
  • Appropriate Tools and Training. This includes having access to appropriate equipment such as laptops and apps for teleworking, adequate tech support, and training for both managers and teleworkers. Given the real risk of social isolation that is associated with full-time teleworking, every effort should be made to help teleworkers stay connected with supervisors, colleagues and the organization as a whole.
  • Clear Expectations. All parties need to be clear about the results that teleworkers are expected to achieve, their conditions of employment, hours of contactability, how to monitor progress and report results. For example, it is essential to set clear ground rules about when workers are or are not available for work – and then respect those rules.
  • Time Sovereignty. Telework can offer workers the flexibility to do their work at the times and in the places that are most convenient for them, while remaining contactable during the normal business hours of the organization. This flexibility is essential for making telework effective because it allows teleworkers to schedule their paid work around their personal responsibilities, such as caring for children, elderly parents, and sick family members.
  • A Boundary Management Strategy. Even if expectations are clear, it is still essential for teleworkers to create their own personal strategies for effective management of the boundary between paid work and personal life. This should include a dedicated workspace free from disruptions, and the ability to disconnect from work at specified times reserved for rest and personal life.
  • Trust– the “glue” that holds it all together. Managers, teleworkers, and their colleagues need to trust each other. Telework cannot be effective without it.


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