Telecommuting – A Technology Killed By Management

by Henry Johns

Many people say that there is nothing like a face to face meeting to get things accomplished. But is that really true? With today’s internet and collaboration technologies corporations should be less concerned with its professional staff’s physical location and take a hard look at their manager’s management skills for remote workers. It is expensive and competitively limiting to only consider talent within a commuting distance when superior talent at a lower cost may be available in the next town or across the world. Is your management team ready?

Internet collaboration is a destructive technology kept in check by legacy management practices. Keep the water cooler and coffee service because the need for professionals to be in the same office from 8am till 6pm in order to be productive, collaborate and share ideas is mandated by your management. The baby boomers that are still senior managers in charge can not let go of the norm of being in the office. If you are not in the office, how do they know you are working? This visual management style, “are you present productivity metric”, is out dated and very costly. Why is it alright to telecommute from Russia or India but not from 150 miles down the road?

The business world in the U.S. is still run by mostly 19th century style managers. The first measurement of an employee’s contribution is getting to the office each day on time. The second is how well they get along with co-workers when they get there. The metric for tangible productivity is too often subjective and harder to quantify. Colleges have discovered that they can teach courses globally to student that they never see. The online gaming industry makes billions of dollars managing global poker games. Open Source developers collaborate globally on coding applications and operating systems. Why can’t a project team leader conduct a meeting or a manager review an employee’s deliverable remotely? In today’s world there is no reason for most technical professionals to see each other or their client in order to work together, provided they have the right technology. Low cost virtual private network technology (VPN) provides remote access to corporate network resources and data. Where your staff sits will not affect the out come of your effort as much as the management skills directing them.

A poorly managed team or meeting is just that. It is much easier to host a face to face meeting without an agenda or proper planning. All meetings should have an agenda and objectives. If done correctly meetings are of minimum length, minutes are recorded, and objectives and tasks are assigned. How many face to face meetings have you been to that don’t have these? If remote meetings do, the outcome is just as efficient as face to face meetings. There is also the personality variable in a traditional face to face meeting. A shy person may be timid about making suggestions and an extravert may dominate meetings. Does the less dominant person have less to contribute? A good facilitator wants all members of the team to contribute ideas freely and equally.

These are the skills needed to be a good project team manager for onsite or virtual teams.

  1. Meeting facilitation skills
  2. Meeting planning and documentation skills
  3. Project planning skills
  4. Excellent interpersonal skills
  5. Team building skills
  6. Documentation skills
  7. Knowledgeable regarding functional area
  8. Internet collaboration tools skills

Having a telecommuting professional workforce is more dependent on the skills and disciplines of your managers than those of your staff. Having large or small groups of people in a corporate department come to a central work location everyday and remain there for an 8 hour workday is a legacy concept that only time and brave managers can change. It is a lot easier to look at how many hours a person spends at work than it is at how productive they are. With a remote work force the manager/leader has the challenge of building relationships, establishing clear expectations, and providing clear feedback. How many managers can do two of these three with a resident staff? The companies that thrive in this new age of telecommuting will hire a management team that can bond together a global matrix of the best minds and master new types of non-verbal communications skills to motivate, reward and lead work groups.

About the Author…
Mr. Johns is President of Vision TRE, Inc. ( on the web at http://www.visiontre.com ), a Georgia based software development company with offshore facilities in Brazil. He has held senior level positions managing global projects for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service, MCI Telecommunications, and EMS Technologies.