How to manage homeworkers effectively

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Business

As businesses seek to maximise productivity levels and increase the morale of their workers, an increasing number are offering flexible working options.

Allowing employees to work from home some or all of the time ensures they can eliminate a lengthy, costly and stressful commute and spend more time with loved ones.

This can have a positive knock-on effect, both in terms of the volume and quality of work, and in their sentiment towards the organisation.

But some employers and team leaders appear reluctant to embrace homeworking, owing to concerns over employee management.

Having been used to having their team members physically present in the office, they may be uneasy about setting them loose to work in their own environment.

But, providing organisations put systems, processes and policies in place to manage homeworkers, there are typically few if any negatives to this model of working.

Give employees independence

Business leaders need to consider the potential benefits of giving their workers greater autonomy, and allowing them to work unsupervised at home.

According to Phil Flaxton, chief executive of WorkWise UK, the best way to manage remote employees is to encourage independence of thought and action.

"The whole management ethos has to become much more open, less hierarchical and more trusting," he claimed.

Mr Flaxton said the key issues for success still surround management styles and the acceptance of change.

"Building a culture of information sharing and creating trust takes time and careful planning, but by structuring the organisation to make best use of its virtual employees, most organisations should be able to see an improvement in productivity of between eight and 15 per cent."

Communicate regularly

Developing continuous communication - whether by email, instant messaging tools, video conferencing or over the phone - ensures homeworkers remain 'in the loop'.

This can also allay any fears managers may have about workers being unleashed, and free to do as they please during the working day.

If employees are going to be operating away from the office, it is important that they check in regularly and keep their boss up to date with what they are doing.

Cloud-based collaboration services make it easier than ever for team members to share ideas, work on documents simultaneously, and see what each other are doing.

The use of online tools ensures experiences, ideas, and success and performance issues can still be shared, but without employees having to be physically present.

Set targets for homeworkers

Giving homeworkers additional independence can be a positive step - it allows employees the freedom to find the way of working which suits them best.

But it is important that they are given clear targets, and that they have specified tasks to complete. If homeworkers are not given enough to do, it is possible that they may get distracted by other duties around the home - for instance, cooking and cleaning.

Employees will always let you know if they are being given too much to do in the working day, but they are less likely to inform their boss about being underworked.

So ensure home-based employees have enough to keep them busy - you won’t be able to see them physically working, but can judge their progress by what actually gets done.

Schedule contact time

Unless your home workers are based in the Outer Hebrides, it makes sense to bring them in to the office periodically for some contact time.

This allows you to address any performance or management issues face-to-face, and also helps better integrate teams.

New employees may enjoy putting a face to a name and getting to know the people who they work with online every day, but have never met in person.

Bringing homeworkers into the office also reinforces the fact that they remain part of the team, and that operating remotely is a privilege afforded to them by their employer.

Have you thought about how remote working can add value to your organisation?

Posted by Sarah Parish