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Mythbusting: Telecommuting doesn’t have to fit into 9-to-5

Managing a remote team takes a different skill set.

You must be a supervisor who shuns micromanagement, who is willing to unleash his employees and let them work at their speed in their own space.

Without you peeking into their cubicle or peering over their shoulders.

To run a successful telecommuting program, you must establish a culture of trust.

You must believe your remote workers are doing what they’re getting paid to do. You must believe they will be accountable for their tasks and duties.

Meanwhile, they have to trust you will be available to give direction if needed, to remove obstacles in their paths and to maintain a flow of communication.

Why we telecommute

Sure, we enjoy shunning the drive to work, wearing our PJs, making lunch in our kitchen and rocking out to 1980s pop on Songza.

That’s a typical work day for me, not a Saturday.

As a telecommuter, I also appreciate the flexibility to work during the hours when I know I will be most productive.

I’ve never been a fan of the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. drudgery, preferring to work into the wee hours of the morning and sleep while the early birds are catching the worms.

So when I was punching a time card, I often wasted away mornings, knowing I’d take work home and get it done while my colleagues were relaxing.

Telecommuting with a flexible schedule became a much better fit for me.

A recent column in the Globe & Mail, however, advised managers to enforce office hours on their work-from-home employees.

Cathy Cowan, who operates a communications firm in Toronto, says she expects her team to be at their desks and answering their phones and emails every day, Monday to Friday, during those hours, unless they’re in a meeting or at lunch.

“Those are our business hours,” she writes. “If there’s a problem reaching them during those hours, then we need to have a talk.”

I call bullfluff.

A good manager works to the strengths of her employees and recognizes when some may be more productive outside of conventional hours.

The freedom to set their own hours — especially in creative fields — can be a game-changer for some companies. Employees feel more empowered and more engaged with their work, resulting in improved productivity and quality.

It’s interesting that Ms. Cowan chooses this Richard Branson quote to support her points:

To force everybody to work in offices is old-school thinking … Choice empowers people and makes for a more content work force.”

Provided everyone is accountable for their work, their results and their time, there’s no reason to confine anyone to a 9-to-5 schedule.

To think otherwise is old school.

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