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February 1997

Guest Commentary by Gloria K. Allen    

     Training the Teleworkforce

 

Telework and the electronic technology now available have given birth to a whole new concept of office. The workplace involving the where and the how employees accomplish work tasks is already in the process of changing by providing new and changing job opportunities for both the employee and the employer. This change will involve a rebalancing of space and workers from the standard traditional office workplace to home or telework centers because it is estimated that within a decade, one-third of the workforce will work at home on either a full-time or part-time basis.

 

There are two basic problems with this. Business owners and managers are not prepared or trained to handle distance supervision with an outcomes approach. At the same time clerical and non-managerial personnel are neither trained nor prepared to dependably meet the needs of business and industry in an at-home office.

 

At present, there is no telework training available, no curriculum for academic credit which guides both the employer and the employee through the processes of the upcoming revolution in the electronic office. There are no courses that answer the demands of the employers, and the vocational and business students, who are willing and eager to be on the leading edge of this new way of meeting the needs of business.

 

For the past five years, I have discussed various aspects of telework and telecommuting with the students in my Secretarial Procedures course at Victor Valley Community College. Those students consistently show a high degree of enthusiasm and skepticism about telecommuting.

 

From semester to semester, each class' questions are the same: What is telecommuting? Why should I telecommute? Where and how would I work when I telecommute? How would I set up a home-based office? How would I handle working from home while separating my work from my family life? Where can I learn self-employment, self-management, self-organization? How do I begin scheduling, planning and calendaring? What basic office skills will I need? Which office machines will I need - computer? printer? copier? fax? modem? pager? beeper? cellular phone? Will I need e-mail and Internet access? And most important, How will I get paid for work from home?

 

Interestingly, at the same time, employers are asking me the same questions but from a slightly different point of view. How and what will they need to provide for their employees who wish to work from home? What are the advantages and benefits, the disadvantages and costs? And what are the future implications?

 

These questions stimulated me to write an Economic Development Grant that was subsequently funded by the state of California to develop a two-credit college-level course on telework and telecommuting. Because successful teleworking and telecommuting are linked directly to training for both the worker and the supervisor, employee and employer, this course will be able to meet the demands of the employer and the employee/student by having two unique components:
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1) Although it is in lecture format, every lecture-class meeting has integrated electronic hands-on practice that enables the student to learn the basic office skills necessary for home-based office communication, which includes e-mail and Internet experience,

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2) It has an employer-based training workshop that will enable the employer/supervisor to learn how to create telework proposals, plans, policies and agreements. It will show them how to select employees suitable for telework -- and how to select and train management for remote supervision. Also, employers will learn how to utilize telecommunications equipment, and perhaps most important, how to use the hard-cover and electronic resources available to implement successfully a formal telework plan.

 

It is important that educational institutions respond to the needs and demands of business (employers and employees) and students (business and vocational, part-time, full-time and continuing education). I hope that in the near future, more and more colleges will present college credit business courses that will prepare students, workers and their employers to be a part of the new office telework concept for the 21st century.

 

Gloria K. Allen 
gloriakallen@webtv.net
619 951-0399
Copyright 1997

 

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