How to succeed with a remote work arrangement
According to numerous studies, the benefits of telecommuting or remote work arrangements include increased productivity, reduction in turnover, improved morale, eco-friendliness and cost-effectiveness. What’s not to love? Contrary to some misperceptions, remote work arrangements don’t always involve kicking back with a laptop on the beach or conference calls at the kitchen table in pajamas. In reality, remote work arrangements (a form of workplace flexibility) are a growing trend at Cornell because they are achieving success – for employees, supervisors and the university.
Kyle’s Story: A flexible work arrangement can make sense in many situations. Take the example of Kyle Oliviera, a system support administrator and developer for Cornell Information Technologies (CIT). After his wife graduated from the Cornell Vet College, she was hired for a job out of state – a not uncommon circumstance for working couples at Cornell. Losing a skilled developer and proven employee such as Kyle Oliviera would have been, in the words of his supervisor, Sandy Eccleston, “a huge hit to the team.”
Oliviera has been telecommuting from California since June of this year, with very positive results according to both Eccleston and Sarah Christen, assistant director at CIT. “I think it works,” says Christen. “I think that people are hesitant to do it sometimes because they’re afraid people aren’t going to do their work, but I found quite the opposite. I think our remote workers feel like it’s an opportunity and they want to do the best they can, so they go out of their way to do everything they need to get their work done.”
Keys to success: The team identified several key factors as being crucial to the success of their flexible work arrangement:
- Type of Work: Remote or flexible work arrangements can’t apply to all jobs; however, as technology evolves, a growing number of roles can be accomplished via the phone and internet. As Oliviera points out, “if you spend a lot of your time at your desk anyway, you’re probably going to be okay.”
- Technology: Remote work increases the need for reliable and efficient technology. The fact that Oliviera works in the technology division where everyone is already comfortable with and consistently using such tools as chat, instant messaging and video conferencing made the process go smoothly.
- Communication: All of Oliviera’s team members agreed that an emphasis on communication is the key to success for remote work. In addition to keeping open channels such as IM, chat and phone calls, the need for regularly scheduled meetings and updates was identified as particularly crucial. Eccleston points out that every week, “I meet with employees for at least half an hour by video, either through Skype or some other method, so that I can actually see them face-to-face.”
- Employee: A great deal of the success of a flex arrangement depends on the experience and attitude of the employee. Eccleston says, “I think the fact that Kyle was here for two or three years before he left factored into our success. He knew all of our customers and the team members, and how to reach them best; when he calls them, they know who he is – that’s a huge thing.” According to Oliviera, “This arrangement really works because of trust. My team trusts that I’m going to do at least as much work as I would do if I were sitting in the office and I trust myself to meet those expectations.”
- Challenges: Of course, any work arrangement can hit snags from time to time. Michelle Artibee, program manager for Career/Life Services in Cornell’s Division of Human Resources, notes that “the most common challenge I hear ties back to technology. Selecting the right technology and learning to use it to its full capabilities can be frustrating. Many of us have experienced a poorly coordinated webinar or teleconference – but Cornell offers guides and training that can help departments maximize the use of these technologies.
- Another issue from the employee’s point of view can come from a sense of isolation or disconnectedness with the rest of the team. In addition to making sure he gets out to the gym regularly, Oliviera works around that by not relying entirely on such digital communications as email and instant messaging. When he uses phone or video communications instead of email, he finds, “that you’re more likely to fall into a little casual conversation, and that fosters team building and helps you feel a little less isolated.”
- Benefits: Among the larger scale benefits, Artibee points out that remote work often provides more “heads-down, focused time for project-oriented work or report writing, thereby increasing the quality and quantity of work produced; the ability to recruit from a larger candidate pool; retention of an employee who needs to relocate; and increased ability for employees to balance career and life demands.”
- And it turns out that sometimes, remote work actually can involve an ocean view: “I was on-call over Labor Day weekend,” says Oliviera, “and I was able to make updates from the beach!”
Want to find out more? Check out the Cornell Remote Employee Network to connect with other staff members who work remotely. For details about types of flexible work arrangements, request and agreement forms, and tips for employees and supervisors visit the Cornell Human Resources website, or contact Michelle Artibee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sue Brightly is a communications marketing specialist in the Division of Human Resources. Special thanks to Michelle Artibee for her contributions and guidance in the writing of this article.