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3 Core Collaborative Skills of Productive Telecommuters

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 - 12:45
Collaborative Telecommuters

If you’re reading this post from a home office, you could be among the nearly 3 percent of U.S. workers who go to work without ever leaving their houses – traditionally called “telecommuting.”

Christopher Groskopf, Data Editor for Quartz, a magazine focused on trends and issues in the digital economy, analyzed data from the U.S. census and the American Community Survey. He discovered that telecommuting has grown faster than any other way of “getting to work” – rising 159 percent since 2000.

He also found that more than half a million remote workers are “managers” of some kind, and most earn relatively high salaries.

Do these statistics just mean managers have more discretion in choosing a work place? Or is a home-based workplace somehow more conducive to higher productivity? Additional research suggests the latter may be true.

Telecommuters Can Be More Productive than Office Workers

Researchers from the Stanford School of Business reported the results of a work-from-home experiment by a large NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency. Volunteers from the company’s call center were assigned randomly to work from home or in the office for nine months.

“Home working led to a 13 percent performance increase, of which 9 percent was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4 percent from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter and more convenient working environment),” Stanford researchers concluded.

They also wrote that home workers reported “improved work satisfaction” and their “attrition rate halved.” When the travel agency offered employees involved in the experiment the opportunity to switch formally from the office to working at home, more than half of them did, a change that later doubled work-from-home performance increases.

From the data, the source of this higher productivity seems clear: Call-center workers gained more minutes to make calls when working from a home office. But is the key to higher productivity having more time to work? Or how those workers chose to work with the time they gained?

Executive coach Joel Garfinkle believes the secret to higher productivity is in the choices workers make.

Productive Home Workers Practice 3 Core Collaborative Skills

“Productivity, surprisingly is not about more time or harder effort,” Garfinkle writes in a column for SmartBrief. He advises anyone seeking higher productivity to “skip the stress” and start practicing three skills to optimize available time:

  1. Prioritize
  2. Delegate
  3. Focus

We agree with Garfinkle’s list. We also believe those three skills form the core of successful collaborative business relationships. Efficient and effective collaboration serves as a cornerstone of productivity whether colleagues are working together in the same room, by conference call or through an online platform.

How Telecommuters Can Prioritize, Delegate and Focus Collaboratively

Per our standard practice, we reviewed recent columns by some of our favorite productivity pundits for insights into core collaborative skills for home workers. Here’s what we gleaned:

1. Prioritizing Work

Executive coach Amy Jen Su advocates three steps for prioritizing work:

  1. Take Ownership of the Process

    “Don’t assume that prioritizing your workload is someone else’s job, and don’t choose to see yourself solely as a ‘do-er’ or a ‘worker bee’,” Su writes in an article for Harvard Business Review. We feel that’s a great mindset, too, but would add another layer: Share the responsibility for setting priorities with those collaborating with you.

  2. Filter Through a Professional/Personal Lens

    Su poses two questions as guidelines for setting priorities:

    • What is my highest contribution?
    • What am I passionate about?

    The first question addresses professional aspects, such as experience and capabilities, while the second taps personal factors, such as energy and motivation. Again, an excellent approach – and one that should be shared with teammates for greatest impact.

  3. Choose a System

    Su advocates a quadrant system for determining priorities that incorporates the professional/personal posture she espouses. If such a complex model captures your imagination, great. If you prefer a simpler system, that’s cool, too. But whatever choices are made about systems for prioritizing, we recommend making those picks as a team.

2. Delegating for Efficiency

Garfinkle provides five questions for driving delegation that we believe apply to working alone or working as a group. We modified the final one for a more collaborative tone:

  1. What is the scope of the work?
  2. How can the work be divided into multiple tasks?
  3. Who has the right skillsets?
  4. Are there barriers to completing tasks?
  5. Who – inside or outside the team – can eliminate those barriers?

3. Focusing

For counsel on the art of concentration, we turned to the leadership guru Dan Rockwell, who in a recent blog post boils focusing down to two simple, practical “commitments”:

  • Protect white space on your calendar.
  • No appointments at least one day a week.

While Rockwell intends for these two tips to apply to team leaders, they apply to any employee working as part of a team. Tying back to Su’s model: How can any of us assess our professional or personal contributions to a group if none of our time is devoted to making those contributions?

As the Stanford study shows, the number of minutes employees gained by working at home was less important to productivity than how they choose to use those minutes. So, if the essence of business collaboration is sharing time with colleagues, then the choices each team makes about how to use their time together is the core of productivity.

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