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Posted: 10/27/2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

Alan Greenspan Think I'm on to Something...

Josh Sawislak
Senior Fellow
Telework Exchange

 

A short while back I had the pleasure of hearing former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan talk about innovation and the global economy. Dr. Greenspan was pretty clear that there is no silver bullet to solve the global financial crisis, but that innovation and smart policy were certainly very good weapons in the fight.

Now, please don’t take this as a slight, but writing for this audience is kind of like preaching to the choir. It looks impressive when everyone is saying “Amen,” but it’s the folks who don’t come every week that you need to convince. So when Dr. Greenspan agreed to take some questions from the group, I figured I had a shot at some objective thoughts on some of my nature of work theories. My question to him was simple (well, I thought so). “In a knowledge worker economy, isn’t a ‘management by attendance’ approach detrimental to innovation and economic growth?,” I asked.  Ok, I was not that clear or concise, but that is what I meant to ask.

So, he kind of looks at me with a little squint and says, “I’m not sure I understand what you are asking.” Dude, I stumped Alan Greenspan! No, just was a little long winded in the question. After clarifying that I was talking about managing people by result (outcome), not effort (attendance), I got what I am defining as victory. Greenspan said, “I’m not sure that I know the answer, but I do think it’s a very important thing to study.” So, I am feeling validated in my discussions of the nature of work and will continue to keep Dr. Greenspan in the loop on my progress…

In that vein, I spent a day last week at the Telework Town Hall Meeting  here in DC and it seems that Greenspan and I are not the only ones who think there is something to this theory. We had a great event if you didn’t get a chance to join us. Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton joined us to say that telework is driving the state’s ability to continue its economic growth in spite of severe infrastructure needs. HHS Assistant Secretary Ned Holland also joined us to talk about what HHS is doing in this area. He said that leadership is the key to success in telework and I think he is correct. This is not a technology problem, it’s not a policy problem, it’s a management problem.

One of my favorite sessions (other than mine) was a management session led by OPM’s Justin Johnson. It featured PTO telework demi-god Danette Campbell and Microsoft’s Martha Clarkson, but stealing the show was DoD’s Jim Neighbors. Jim explained that he got interested in telework as a way to stem the loss of good people when he moved his staff due to a BRAC relocation. To ensure it continued to work, he followed a management approach attributed to the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés, who is said to have burned his ships once in Mexico, so his crew understood that there was no “going back.” Neighbors just gave away the office space that was used by former full time office workers and saved the taxpayers some money at the same time. He’s in a different position now, but the person who took over his old office was motivated to carry on his telework plan or he would have to go try to get back the space.

Anyone not a history buff can skip this, but most historians think Cortés actually sunk (scuttled) the ships and did so to prevent some mutinous members of his crew from defecting to the Governor of Cuba. Whatever the method or cause, the effect was the same. It was a long swim home to Spain, so they better conquer the Aztecs or they were in for a rough time.

I hope you will join in on this discussion and help me explore these ideas. And as far as my validation from Dr. Greenspan, in the words of Carl “the assistant greenskeeper” Spackler from Caddyshack, “I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”  

Posted: 10/13/2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Tags: Workforce

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Josh Sawislak
Senior Fellow
Telework Exchange

I've heard this question before – is telework a scam? Sometimes it’s not even a question, more like a statement. Do teleworkers actually “work”? Last month, a jobs web site called CareerBuilder.com published a study that found that 17 percent of the teleworkers they surveyed said they worked an hour or less a day. Another 8 percent reported they worked 2-4 hours a day. The data show one quarter of their survey population is working less than half of the nominal eight-hour workday. That got a lot of people in this space spun up, so let’s look at the numbers and the bigger picture.

The folks at CareerBuilder.com hired a reputable survey firm, Harris Interactive. As far as I can find on the web, they only released a press release and a graphic representation of their survey results, so I will have to make some assumptions here. I am going to talk about some math and statistics below, so if that freaks you out, skip to the next paragraph.

One point I find curious is that none of the respondents apparently work between 1-2, 4-5, or 7-8 hours a day, but I will assume this is an error in the graphic, not the survey methodology.  What I find even more curious is that less than half (48 percent) of all workers (office and home) claim to work eight or more hours a day on a typical day. So I went back and looked at the American Time Use Survey from 2009 (most recent) published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS found that the average working American spends 7.44 hours per day “working”. Stay with me here. CareerBuilder.com’s press release says that they only surveyed full time, non-government, non-self employed workers. So if BLS’ data includes part time workers, shouldn’t there be a whole lot more Americans working over the straight eight? If the data are suspect for all workers, I’m not sure how much I trust it for teleworkers. 

But let’s pass by these issues and assume that 17 percent of teleworkers are only working one hour or less a day. And that they are not all devotees of “the four-hour work week” management guru Tim Ferriss. Lets also welcome back the people who skipped the math section above.

What I want to ask the 17 percent is “how many hours a day did you work when you were in the office?” And I want to ask their managers what type of performance criteria they use to measure these employees? Here is my unscientific guess to the answers to these two questions:

  • They worked the same number of hours either in the office or at home and their bosses only look at attendance, not any type of outcome or even output measure. Bad employees are bad employees, regardless of where you put them. If someone is not motivated and doesn’t like their job, they can usually find a way to slack off
  • Motivated employees and ones whose performance is tied to their effectiveness are less likely to slack off and, if they do, it will become pretty obvious, pretty fast

This is easier to do in certain jobs than in others. Sales people never have a problem defining success. As Alec Baldwin’s character in the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross says to the assembled salesmen (they were all men), “first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado…second prize is a set of steak knives, and third prize is you’re fired.”

I’m not suggesting a Darwinist approach to all management issues, rather some clear direction from manager to employee as to what is expected and what constitutes success. This is equally important for the office worker, as it is the teleworker. No matter how many hours someone works a day, the question we should be asking is “what did you get done?”

If you want to continue this discussion, I hope you can join me next week in Washington D.C. for the Telework Exchange Fall Town Hall Meeting at the Ronald Reagan Building on October 18th.  If you can’t join us at the Town Hall, you can write your thoughts below or e-mail me at jsawislak@teleworkexchange.com.