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Ten top tips for managing home workers

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4th Sep 2009
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Russell Evans explains how managers can add value and improve business performance by leading their remote workers effectively.

Around two million employees in the UK currently work from home and it’s a fundamental shift that’s brought a host of new challenges for leaders, who have to ensure that their teams perform consistently across significant distances. Managers have to recognise that their leadership is key to making these arrangements work, so read on for my tips for success.

Team or group?
Decide whether you work with a team or a group. A team is generally a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they are mutually accountable. A group is a simpler affair with linear links to the leader where each person’s responsibility is principally to meet their individual target.

Plan ahead
Map out a clear and compelling vision that everyone buys into and that clarifies one another’s expectations.

Motivate
Engage your people through coaching rather than instructing, and encourage them to feel that they are contributing to the organisation’s overall strategy, even though they’re not at the hub.

Trust
Recognise the importance of trust and understand that it is developed differently in remote working.

Monitor achievement
Reward and compensate in line with individual preferences and set measurements of performance based on results not activities. This permits some flexibility in how things are delivered and avoids unnecessary micro management.

Work together
Despite not being physically together, it’s important that the team agrees on how they will communicate, make decisions, resolve issues and deliver results.

Communicate
Keep in touch using as many different media as possible. Check in regularly with members to monitor progress and provide necessary feedback. Keep members apprised of critical information and decisions. One recent survey revealed that while 80% of employees would like the option of working from home occasionally, they would miss the camaraderie of the office environment too much to want to do it full time.

Use the right tools
Consider what communication tools will deliver the desired results. Audio and visual conferencing might suit the leader but not have the attention of the participants. The return on investment of face-to-face communication will always pay dividends so long as the agenda is 'how?' not 'what?'

Evaluate your working practices

Monitor performance and constantly evaluate the processes in place to maximise the benefits of remote working. If productivity and overheads do not show immediate improvements, it may be because you have failed to engage managers and employees in the new working arrangement.

Keep an open mind
Avoid imposing your own values and outlook, be open to diversity and recognise how everyone brings something to the party.

This way of working is far from straightforward, for instance, the communication needs to be more frequent, more overt and more specific. Working with people remotely or virtually might pose some challenges but, if approached properly and closely monitored, it can deliver significant benefits.

Russell Evans, managing director of organisational and people development consultancy Primeast.

For more tips and advice on remote working, visit our sister site, TrainingZone.co.uk.

 

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By dialm4accounts
28th Sep 2009 16:05

Some tips from someone who's been there

I spent just over a year working remotely as an employee.  I was (and still am) in North Cumbria, while my then employer was in Cornwall, so commuting was definitely out.

Here are my top 5 tips for employees and employers in this situation:

Employees:

1) Keep in touch with your colleagues.  We used MSN Messenger and Skype chat as well as phonecalls and e-mail.  Talk to each other and work together - don't cut yourself off.

2) Visit regularly if at all possible.  I used to fly to Cornwall every month or so, sometimes for a meeting with the bosses, but also to spend time in the office and keep up the feeling of "team".

3) Go to team events when you can.  The Christmas party is a great way to take part.

4) Don't mess about with your hours without telling anyone, just because they can't see you.  If you want to take the afternoon off you still have to ask.  And let the receptionist know when you go out for lunch, otherwise she's going to look a right wally if she tries to put a call through to you and you're not there.  (Not meaning to be sexist, just said "she" because our receptionist was a lady.)

5) Keep your manager updated with what you're doing.  That might be by filling in a timesheet, or by sending him/her regular updates by e-mail.  Make sure you turn out as much work as you would if you were office-based.  In my case it actually represented an increase in productivity to work from home - I'd never have been able to shoot screencasts in a noisy open-plan office!

Employers:

1) Don't let your homeworkers feel left out.  Keep them updated with any changes in the organisation, e.g. someone's leaving, someone's joining, new policy, new strategy for finding customers.  They're still part of the team.

2) Encourage your homeworkers to visit the office regularly and join in staff events.

3) If you give your office-based staff gifts or perks, like a team sweater, give one to the homeworker too.  Or if the perk is office-related (like a bike to ride to work), try and think of something you could give to the homeworker as an alternative.

4) Don't go bonkers if you ring up your homeworker and he/she doesn't answer.  He/she may just be in the loo.  For goodness' sake don't make your homeworker send a message or call every time he/she leaves his/her desk for 5 minutes.  That's just silly.  A homeworker taking 5 minutes to hang out their washing (or rescue it if it rains) is not skiving.  How long do you think your office-based staff spend gossiping with each other?

5) Finally - let people work from home, either temporarily or permanently, part-time or full-time.  It may be just what's needed if one of your team has a long commute, has children to see off to school or a sick relative to care for.  That employee will be grateful to you for it and you'll earn loyalty.

That's my twopennyworth.

M

www.homebusinessaccountant.co.uk

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