Crash Course In: Managing remote working

More of your people are working at home, and a growing number are permanently based outside the office. How do you manage a remote workforce?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Be selective. Most people could work outside the office, but some adapt better than others. Lynette Swift, managing director of consultancy Swiftwork, says attributes shared by the best home workers include an ability with technology, time management skills, self-motivation and self-discipline. 'You need to check that people have an appropriate environment for working remotely. If they have young children and no designated quiet area, it may not be feasible,' she adds.

Relate remotely. 'Teams which perform best are the ones whose members learn to work on the relationship aspects as well as on the task and who don't need to meet face-to-face,' says Ghislaine Caulat, associate business director at Ashridge Consulting.

Tailor the talk. Peter Thomson, director of Wisework and co-author of the book Future Work, advises that it should be about adapting communication to the individuals concerned. 'Some people are happy to receive an email, others find that impersonal and appreciate a phone call or even talking to the manager on Skype.'

Foster team spirit. Instant messaging and social networking can facilitate 'chat' between team members and should be seen as a useful tool rather than time-wasters, says Thomson. 'Very often, the act of becoming mobile galvanises a team into introducing a more rigorous approach to meetings, debriefings and one-to-ones,' says Swift.

Learn to trust. 'It's much harder to trust someone who works distantly,' according to BT's Remote Manager's Toolkit. Don't try to micro-manage and trust people to do the work when it suits them.

Train workers. Offer help with technology, time management, structuring work and other skills that are often provided as support services in the office.

And train managers. 'Leading virtually is a new discipline which is different from traditional leadership and needs to be recognised as such and learnt,' says Caulat.

Appraise for results. You can't easily measure remote workers' input, so concentrate on their output, says Thomson. The approach would benefit all businesses, with less reward for 'presenteeism' and more for what people actually produce.

Emphasise the upside. 'The best motivation is making the benefits clear - improved work/life balance and scheduling work around your lifestyle,' says Swift. 'If employees have clear goals and targets, they may become more efficient and productive and free up more time for themselves.'

Do say: 'This report is superb. Speak to you when you're back from the golf course.'

Don't say: 'It's nine o'clock. Why haven't you logged in?'

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