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Co-workers and Clients FAQ
Don't telecommuters place a big burden on support staff in the office?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on what kinds of problems or workload we're discussing. Very often, these initially take the form of arguing over who should be responsible for various tasks, or how the in-office support staff has to take on added duties to make up for what the telecommuters can't do remotely.

The optimistic or idealistic answer is that the best and most lasting solution to these problems is not to argue over who gets stuck with what, but instead to do some problem analysis and figure out why the added work needs to be done at all. If the phone system doesn't work right or files aren't accessible, the cost and effort to fix those systems to make them telecommuter-friendly may not be all that high, and it avoids lots of ongoing hassles.

Also, the very same technical fixes that enable telecommuters to work more smoothly are also helpful, or necessary, for other remote workers - especially the traveling executives who may be trying to do the same kinds of things from their hotel rooms, beach houses, ski condos or whatever. In the name of providing "superior remote access for our executives," you can get some stuff done that just happens to also fix the problem for the telecommuters.

The next best step is to do a little analysis of exactly how much burden there is involved for the in-office administrative staff. If it's a couple of phone calls a week, that's one thing; if it's five calls a day that's quite another. Very often I see that what is described as a huge burden really isn't.

Sometimes the complaints from the support staff about added workload are nothing more than politically correct and restated resentment about the fact that they are "stuck in the office" - and it has nothing to do with the realities of the added workload. If that's the case, it may be good to provide a forum to explore why support staff can't work remotely - or even to test that assumption - and also to consider whether other forms of flexible work are better suited to their jobs.

The telecommuters may need some (for want of a better term) "sensitivity training" around how to make their requests and provide a constant stream of positive feedback about compliance. If the support staff feel like they're taken for granted or used as a pair of hands, they'll resent it - rightfully - much more than if they are treated with more courtesy and recognition.

Finally, a little gratitude and recognition goes a long way. I have worked with some organizations where the remote workers do some kind of periodic "thanks for the support" event for the in-office staff. It could be taking them out to lunch, surprising them with pizza, taking them to a baseball game, or some other kind of mild celebration that provides an opportunity to demonstrate the thanks that often get left unsaid. These don't have to be done often - maybe twice a year, or more if the burden is extreme.

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