Workingmums.co.uk’s most recent employer survey shows most think flexible working will increase, with larger and smaller employers in particular favouring more homeworking. But making the most of homeworking is not just about letting employees work from home. Those organisations which benefit most have thought through how they do it and put in the support mechanisms necessary, for example, to tackle the risk of overworking or isolation. They have also considered the management challenges. Many, though, still view homeworking as too much of a productivity risk and difficult to oversee.
We asked performance coach Jane Sparrow, author of The Culture Builders: Leadership Strategies for Employee Performance, for her tips on managing remote workers successfully. She says it’s all about doing things differently with firstly, the right attitude and secondly the right behaviours to embed a remote working culture in a way that can actually drive performance and benefit business.
Here are her tips for managers looking to develop a positive, flexible working culture:
How serious are you, really, about offering the option to work remotely for your employees? What does your organisation mean by remote working? Having a policy in place doesn’t cut the mustard if you haven’t carefully thought about the attitudes and behaviours that will be required across the organisation to make that policy successful in practice. Business leaders have a duty to set the cultural tone and expectation for what ‘flexible’ means for their own organisation and to ensure every employee, no matter how, when and where they work, is supported by a manager committed to helping them achieve their best performance – and who trusts them to do it.
Remote working can only be successful on a case by case basis. For some employees, working from home (or elsewhere) is a sensible option e.g. lawyers, who often need to review detailed case documents. For others, e.g. personal or executive assistants, for whom being the eyes and ears of the organisation is a key part of their role, it isn’t so appropriate. We also need to think about people’s personal and behavioural preferences – do they thrive in a team environment or is their productivity boosted when they’re able to really focus and work alone? Are they easily distracted or perhaps at risk of overworking and burn-out if left to their own devices too much? By having the confidence to have open and honest conversations with employees, managers can gain richer understanding of how and why flexible working may – or may not – be right for individuals and for the business.
When Yahoo announced it was axing its flexible working policy last year (an important part of which was remote working) it apparently stated that not only did working from home “..compromise speed and quality..” but that, “…some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings”. Homeworking, by its nature, means employees will miss out on these little interactions. Recreating these small and personal interactions virtually is vital when it comes to keeping remote employees thriving and performing. For example, picking up the phone to check in with someone and see how they are enjoying a piece of work, instead of calling when you have to or because you need something, are just some of the little ways managers can actually have a big impact and keep remote workers connected. And this goes both ways! Employees also need to demonstrate commitment to keeping in touch and collaborating with colleagues.
Once the belief and behaviours pillars are in place, there is an important ‘tools’ element that needs investment. What tools are required to enable employees to work remotely and productively? This requires an understanding of their ‘remote’ working environment and ensuring sufficient connectivity. It also requires consideration of what other technology may be valuable in keeping remote workers connected e.g. video conferencing, remote access to the intranet or improved mobile devices.
Jane says the many successful working cultures, which include an element of remote working, are proof that performance does not need to be compromised just because some employees choose to, or have to, work in a different way to their office-based colleagues. “Flexible working is not a black and white, right or wrong decision,” she says. “Ultimately, like most things in life, it’s about balance and I believe a good manager will know if remote working is right for their employee, or not, because they don’t just work with their employees, they know them, too.
“Instead of getting tied up in policy and political knots, companies should be investing in line managers and leaders who know and understand what it takes to help people perform and working to upskill those that don’t. Then and only then can they make the best possible judgement about someone’s desire for remote working. And who knows…it might just be the key that unlocks even stronger performance, commitment and loyalty from them.”