Telecommuting? It's all about Control.

Whether you’re bookmarking an article to make an after-school snack, interrupting a teleconference to soothe a crying baby, or simply reiterating to your partner that you are on the clock and thus unavailable, working at home introduces distractions that aren’t found in a traditional office space.

So how can you balance work with family, and still maintain some semblance of sanity?

Recent research on telecommuting (Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2009) has pointed to two important factors to consider when creating a positive telecommuting experience.

  1. You must perceive control over how, when, and where you work
  2. You should set clear boundaries between work and home roles


As an employee, do what you can to establish your own control over your work. If you find yourself constantly changing your schedule to align with a co-worker’s, try to be more assertive in setting meeting times. Talk to your manager about having more autonomy in your job. This could mean setting your own deadlines or creating your own list of weekly goals. The more control you feel, the better you’ll perform—both at work and at home.

As a manager of a telecommuting workforce, it is important to grant your employees individual autonomy in deciding how they do their work. If they have certain hours that they prefer, or they want the option of working in multiple locations, it is important that you support their decisions. The more control employees feel over the way that they work, the less work-family conflict they will experience. Thus, they will be less likely to turnover or move on to a new career.

However, there is a delicate balance between allowing employees autonomy and ensuring a predictable flow of communication. For instance, it is difficult to coordinate “catch-ups” with employees who have highly irregular schedules. Thus, depending on how often you feel that you need to meet with your employee, try setting a regular (e.g., weekly, monthly) meeting that is inflexible. This will ensure that contact is still readily available, even if your employee is working at times or locations that don’t align with your own.

Setting Boundaries

It is also important to be deliberate in separating your work and family responsibilities. Individuals who integrate their work and family roles (e.g., using one “catch-all” email account for work and home) are more likely to experience work-family conflict. In contrast, individuals who make clear boundaries between their work and family roles experience a greater sense of well-being and balance.

Having trouble separating your responsibilities? Try creating a space in your home that is “off-limits” to family members while you are working. This could mean closing the door to your workspace, or posting a sign that says “Dad is not available until 4pm”.

Just as you communicate to your family when you’re working, you should also communicate to your co-workers when you are enjoying family time. Grant your co-workers access to your weekly schedule so that they know when you are available to answer phone calls and emails. Set a precedent of not answering communications when you are “off-duty” unless it is time-sensitive or a high priority. Setting these clear boundaries ensures that others respect how you manage your responsibilities, which will decrease your work-family conflict and increase your well-being.

Source:  Kossek, E. E., Lautsch, B. A., & Eaton, S. C. (2009). “Good teleworking”: Under what conditions does teleworking enhance employees’ well-being?. Technology and Psychological Well–Being. Cambridge, MA Cambridge University Press.

En Garde! Dueling Loyalties

By nature, a matrix is flexible and allows people to come together when their experience, expertise, or knowledge is best suited for the project at hand.  It allows project leaders access to resources they wouldn’t have if they were limited to those people reporting directly to them in a traditional supervisor / employee structure.

The very flexibility that makes this a viable structure, also leads to the following challenges:

  • The lack of clarity makes people unsure, they don’t know how to proceed, and minor issues quickly escalate.
  • The lack of structure makes people feel unconnected and lost as they are squeezed between competing and conflicting goals.
  • Too many meetings, too much email, and too much personality drama.

In a perfect work environment, you would work half of each day for each team, assuming you are only part of two teams.  But our workplaces aren’t perfect and you constantly need to juggle these expectations.

What can you do to increase your effectiveness within this structure?

Have a presence with people — Respond to their requests, add value to others and they will be more likely to do the same for you.

Be clear about decisions – Is someone asking you for input, an opinion, a vote, or an actual decision?

Be proactive with conflict — Deal with tensions and misunderstandings quickly and explicitly. Often, simply acknowledging disagreements aids in a speedy resolution.

Clarify expectations — don’t assume!  As with any team, priorities shift.  When you are on multiple teams, it is incredibly easy for them to shift unbeknownst to you.  A quick email to confirm action items, goals, objectives, perhaps even which processes to use, can save you a lot of frustration.

Thank you for reading.

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Making the Matrix Work for You!

People skills, huh?  Developing trust?  Sounds like another topic designed to waste your precious time instead of giving you something you can actually use.  I get it.  I really, really do.

But here’s the thing — when you have resources delegated to you without traditional authority over them, how are you supposed to ensure that they are doing their part?!

Do you rant and rave?  Cross your fingers and hope?  What?!

I can tell you that the people who find the matrix to be a comfortable and effective work environment are the people who have spent the time and effort to develop their people skills.  Specifically, the skills that will create trust between you and your team members, regardless of who is their direct supervisor.

The core of success within the matrix is in understanding that things only get done through networks and through patterns of relationships.  And relationships built on trust are the only relationships that work.  Ever.

That’s all well and good, and easy to understand, but how do you do it? How do you develop these skills, especially in the virtual world?

Over the years, Bridging Distance has been coaching, consulting and training people in matrix management.  We’ve helped companies and organizations — large and small — succeed within the matrix by placing the focus on the “softer” set of people skills.

Allow me to introduce Carlos.  Carlos was the lead on a food product team chartered to bring a food product in-line with upcoming government nutritional standards.  His team’s objective was to modify the existing product and get it to market ahead of regulations and competitors.

His timeframe was extremely short – 4 months – and the marketing department was depending on him to deliver so they could claim that they were the “first to get healthy” and demonstrate that the company cared more about the health of its customers than the competition.

The challenge:  nutrition experts in one city working with chefs in various cities to create one single recipe which would be used by the manufacturing facility in another part of the world.  Few of these people reported directly to Carlos.

The process:  Carlos, a corporate manager in the food industry, began his career as a trained chef and, over the years, he kept in touch with his former colleagues, asking opinions and sharing information.  Additionally, he reached out to understand the everyday ups and downs of people in the Nutrition, Procurement, and Regulatory spaces of his product.  Further, he took the time to learn about the culture of the manufacturing plant, as well as the culture of the country in which it was located.

The end of the story:  Success!  Carlos had the contacts, the credibility, and the relationships to draw upon for this tight time-frame.  He was able to tap into his network to inquire about critical information — things to consider and pitfalls to avoid.  His connections responded in droves, wanting to be a part of the success in his new endeavor.

Question:  How much time did establishing these relationships take?  Not that much — Carlos took a few minutes here and there to capitalize on opportunities and ask questions, learn more, and share information.

Through our workshops, training, and coaching services, we help people like Carlos implement a skill set that has proven time and time again to help individuals, teams, and corporations succeed in today’s virtual work environment.