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April 1997

Guest Commentary by J. A. Sisson

Tactics for Teleworker Wannabes

After seeking a telework position for over six months, I've come to a conclusion. There are a lot more of us teleworkers than folks who want to hire us.  Research indicates the problem is supply and demand. The demand for teleworkers just hasn't kept up with the throngs of people seeking telework. Companies that are implementing telework programs fill telework positions with their existing workforce, rarely with new employees.


After exhausting the online "telework" job listings, which seemed to have one job posted per 1,000 teleworker wannabes, I turned my attention to regular classifieds and recruiters. I've been carefully seeking out positions such as word-processing, web design and other kinds of jobs already being accomplished remotely (and successfully) all over the world.


I apply for these jobs normally, going through the typical process. When I feel there is sufficient interest in me as a candidate, I then ask the employer to consider a teleworking arrangement. I explain telework in terms of the company's bottom line rather than mine.

I explain telework in terms of the company's bottom line rather than mine.  

However, despite the fact that I'm already equipped to telework and that I have excellent references (as a worker and as a remote worker), the answer is always naught. This is true even if I'm overqualified for the job for which I'm applying.


"No" comes in many forms, such as, "We aren't equipped to handle a teleworker," or "This is a job that has to be done on site." There is one response, though, that I appreciate for its honesty: "We have to evaluate your job performance in person before we can set up that kind of arrangement."


I think that teleworker wannabes need to be aware that it isn't always about supply-and-demand or qualifications, but sometimes it's about trust. I suspect that many companies hold a traditional way of thinking regarding workers and supervision. Employers are leery to employ and evaluate people merely on the basis of the results of their work. They want to see the "means to the end" -- i.e., their work ethic, their motivation. In short, they want to make sure that time-wise they are getting the most for every dollar they've invested in their employees. And this, to some employers, may be more important than any promise of financial savings or increased work production.


I wonder if there was a time when the same factors came into play with businesses working with other businesses long distance. When businesses went beyond always buying from "Joe's company down the street," the portfolio was born -- evidence that a company is trustworthy. In this sense, there is a negotiation of trust between two equal entities. But in the sense of job candidate and hiring company, the negotiation is between "unequal parties" -- the worker is the subordinate, not the equal entity. A resume doesn't hold as much weight, nor incur as much trust, as a company portfolio and history.

Perhaps the appeal of telework for the worker is that of increased equality.  

Perhaps the appeal of telework for the worker is that of increased equality. As professionals, we realize that working for someone is no longer something that we should feel "lucky" about, but that we offer sound skills and experience in return for our compensation. We are offering, in addition to valuable expertise, a good one-third to two-thirds of our valuable time. We realize that companies gain as much from having us as we gain by working for them. Going to work for someone is no longer a "take whatever you are offered" proposition but a negotiation of pay and benefits for a valued service.


Research has shown that in companies that have instituted teleworking programs, there is less employee turnover and increased production. Thisis no surprise. In the past, companies found that offering benefits, such as health insurance, went a long way to gaining and holding quality employees, because benefits reflect the value of an employee.


In one sense, currently, telework is probably a rare "benefit" that may draw and hold quality employees. In the future, as companies become increasingly aware of the advantages of telework for themselves, the environment and the community, I think it will be more of the norm rather than the exception. But I think for telework to be considered a truly alternative way of working, human resource professionals will have to learn to accept a results-oriented evaluation.


My experience with telecommuting was a brief but positive temporary position as an office manager. Realizing that I could do the work from home, I proposed the idea of telework to my employer. He agreed to it on a trial basis, and after the trial he was so pleased with the results, that I continued working for him in this capacity. The job entailed many aspects that employers think can't be done remotely, but which never posed a problem for me, including answering phones and filing.


Since then, I've been looking for a similar arrangement, but telecommuting isn't easy to find. So, four years ago, I started offering desktop publishing services which eventually grew into a web development business. Ironically, companies that might not consider me as a teleworker seem to have no problem trusting me as an independent contractor.

Ironically, companies that might not consider me as a teleworker seem to have no problem trusting me as an independent contractor.  

My advice to other telework wannabes is to keep trying, but if you are already a valued worker for a company, you may have more luck getting that company to consider a telework alternative than to quit your job and hope to find a telework position. It's unfortunate, but many employers are missing out on a highly skilled, low-maintenance and cost-saving workforce-- only because the applicants happen to desire or require a teleworking arrangement.


J. A.Sisson 
North Georgia 

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