Telecenter

What Are Telecenters?

Telecenters are facilities, rented or leased by the employer, that provide business-like settings that may include workstations, docking stations, conference rooms, and other amenities that enable employees to perform work away from the primary workplace.

These telecenters may be rented by a single employer, amounting to a satellite office located near a concentration of employee residences, or by multiple employers who share the contiguous workspace in a single location that their employees may access.

Other locations may include virtual offices, which allow employees to use technology to contact the primary workplace, customers, or suppliers from an airport, a hotel, the employee’s car, or other off-site locations.

Setting up Telecenters: Role of the Supervisor

When implementing telework programs, the supervisor must determine the amount of time the employee spends teleworking.

Some employees telework Opens in new window on a full-time basis, meaning that the employee completes all or almost all work duties outside of a traditional office setting. This type of telework offers the employer the potential for cost savings through avoidance of office rent that otherwise would have been expended for that employee in the primary workplace setting. It is particularly useful for employers who wish to retain valued employees who cannot remain in the geographical area of the primary workplace.

Some employees telework on an irregular basis, when teleworking is designed to accommodate a specific employee or employer need. For example, employees who experience a medical problem, seek reasonable accommodation to a disability, or need to focus on a special project may meet those needs through teleworking on an irregular basis. Employers may benefit also by incorporating this type of teleworking into their disaster recovery planning effort.

Supervisors must also focus on the type and amount of training necessary to support telework. To some extent, this training is a form of change management, because the introduction of telework is a significant organizational change. Supervisors must engage in awareness training, educating employees at every level of the organization about the business case for telework and how it will be integrated into the workplace. Supervisors should deliver specific training relating to policies, procedures, and techniques to be employed in teleworking.

Supervisors should educate teleworking employees about the means and mechanisms for good communication between the primary workplace and the telework site as a way to prevent obstacles to success. Finally, participation in question and answer sessions may assist employees in understanding the telework process, including typical barriers and their attendant solutions.

Once telework has commenced, supervisors should remain aware of the need to educate these employees about changes to organizational policies, procedures, and techniques on a continuous basis. Supervisors must also examine the manner in which the work of telework will be monitored and measured.

After establishing clearly the work to be performed and the results to be accomplished, the supervisor must establish a mechanism for monitoring and measuring that work. Mechanisms to measure performance may focus on quantity, quality, timeliness, or cost-effectiveness. Once the mechanisms are in place, the supervisor must provide a means to monitor them and provide feedback to the employee.

Because teleworking employees are not close at hand, the supervisor may employ a variety of means to provide feedback, such as e-mails, phone calls, and faxes. Additionally, supervisors must ensure that they recognize the achievements of teleworkers as well as those employees who commute to the primary workplace.

Supervisors also play a role in maintaining compliance with regulations, rules, and policies that govern the workplace. The law imposes obligations upon employers to maintain a safe working environment, whether their staff work in a traditional or nontraditional setting. Issues relating to physical layout, ergonomics Opens in new window, and safety hazards fall within the purview of the supervisor’s role in maintaining a safe work environment.

Wage and hour laws also apply in nontraditional settings, protecting employees from working excessive hours without the benefit of overtime pay. Review of time, pay, and attendance issues, such as core hours, days, duty station, and sick and vacation time, all are subject to institutional policies and fall within the supervisor’s responsibilities.

Exhibit I shows an example of a telework safety checklist.

Exhibit I | Telecommuting safety checklist
  • Fire safety, including smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and a fire evacuation plan
  • Ergonomics, including use of correct office furniture, lighting, and equipment
  • Security, including password protections, virus scanning, and firewalls
  • Space design that allows for ingress and egress without tripping or blocking
  • Electrical safety, including use of grounded outlets and appropriate numbers of electrical circuits
  • Accident and injury reporting mechanisms
Source: Office of Personnel Management Opens in new window. (2003). Telework: A management priority; A guide for managers, supervisors, and Telework coordinators. http://www.telework.gov/ Opens in new window Courtesy of the United States Office of Personnel Management

Furthermore, antidiscrimination laws and regulations apply to workers in a telework environment in the same manner in which they apply to workers in a traditional environment. Employees who suffer work-related injuries or damages while teleworking are eligible for benefits under state and federal workers’ compensation programs.

Finally, laws, rules, and regulations that govern access to and confidentiality of protected health information also apply to the telework environment. This is of particular importance because the employer has no mechanism to control who enters an employee’s home and, therefore, must have a means to safeguard sensitive data, records, and vital information.