You manage by objectives and your manager does too, right? Of course you do. Nobody manages knowledge workers by face-time any more, watching when employees show up at the office and noting the minute that they leave in the evening. But if one did manage employees by face-time and felt the need to know that they were at their desks all day, could one do it with telecommuters?
Instant messaging actually works pretty well as a means for communicating when an employee is at his desk. The telecommuter must take a little more care than the office worker to be sure that the presence indicator (“Available,” Away,” “Be Right Back”) is set to reflect his situation. His manager can use instant messaging to check in with him to ask a question or check on progress.
The manager shouldn’t need to do much checking once he is assured of the telecommuter’s trustworthiness. A telecommuter demonstrates his reliability by answering promptly when his presence indicator is set to “Available” so that his manager knows that he is present when he says he is. His availability should be in keeping with office policy. Do people show up at the office at 8:00? He should be “avalaible” at 8:00. Lunch at 12:00? Unavailable only during meetings? The face-time telecommuter can follow office standards. His manager can glance in to check on him as easily as he can check on an employee with a cubicle.
A devious telecommuter might be watching for incoming instant messages while browsing eBay, of course. So could his in-office counterpart. (That’s what a browser “boss button” is for, after all.) He can even get software to give his boss an automated vague reply while he’s actually elsewhere, but how long would that fool any competent manager? Shirking would be easier in the office.
A manager could try this. It seems like an odd marriage of 1950s business practice with today’s technology. Communication and trust are so much easier and more effective, in office or out.