Where Are My Employees?

March 10, 2011

Productivity

home-office image | Where Are the Employees

More and more people are working from home, remotely and, while on the road. This is not to say that people didn’t do this years ago, its just that with the improvements in technology there is simply more productive and impacting work that can be done remotely. It wasn’t too many years ago that working from home meant catching up on non-urgent emails and making a list of things to get done the following week. Bottom line – static work. Employees who were traveling and away from the office were not expected to “keep up” and typically needed a few days to get reacquainted when they returned to the office. Allowances were made for this.

More and more people are working part or all of their work week from home and spending less time at the office. “MWA” or Managing by Walking Around needs to be redefined by managers to understand how employees are doing. An employee who is preoccupied because they are dealing with a personal situation  and maybe a little disengaged might be tougher to spot.

Today information is far more available, accessible, and structured in a way for people to more easily make decisions away from the office. Decisions that can be extremely impacting to the business. As more and more meaningful work is being done out of the office managers are challenged to balance involvement and oversight with speed to make decisions and autonomy of the workforce.

Assuring accountability for actions, decisions, and results regardless of where the work is being done is an essential requirement in today’s remote workforce.

Additionally more and more business impacting decisions are being made and expected to be made remotely and “on the fly”. Waiting to get back to the office just doesn’t cut it anymore. Time is money and decisions need to be made now! All the information and access to people and data is available out of the office -  no different than in the office so why wait? The challenge is that remote workers can’t rely on others to bounce a critical decision off of as easy be remote as it is when in the office. They can’t easily pull a few of their peers together to get a consensus. They can’t easily see the faces of their fellow workers and read between the lines. While they have a lot more information they may not have it all and more importantly not realize they don’t.

As there is typically a lot of education on how to use the new CRM applications, remote access, and integration of your Blackberry to the company’s servers there is typically little education for the manager and employee expected to work in this new environment. This has to change. Today’s Human Resource organizations must step up to the plate and institute the training for manager and employees working and  managing in this new environment.

Here are a few things to consider to remain an effective leader in today’s remote worker environment:

  • Don’t fight the impact of technology on making it easier for employees to be effective remotely.
  • There is a difference between being remotely effective and working effectively remotely
  • Make it easy for your people to stay connected while being remote. Include them in all relevant communications, conference calls, staff calls, etc. Because someone is remote shouldn’t mean they are at a disadvantage or excluded.
  • Don’t make excuses – working remote is not a reason to miss a deadline or be less informed and up to speed then required. As it’s on the company to create a strong environment for the remote worker it is up to the remote worker to keep up, stay engaged, and participate no differently than someone working from the office. This might require more discipline and innovation on the remote worker’s part.
  • Enable your remote employees – Provide them the appropriate tools and education to help assure they succeed. You do your part and there is a better chance they will do theirs. Consider certifying your remote workers assuring they can be effective.
  • “Inspect what You Expect” – You will need to inspect more of what you expect as a manager. You will need to do this differently than before. Assessing someone’s attitude, drive, involvement and buy-in are significantly more difficult with workers that are remote. Leaders will need to be more involved and engaged than before.
  • Working remotely is a privilege to some as it decreases commute time and expenses and can be a nuisance for others that might have young children home or limited home office space. Respect both and find out how remote work might affect the employee. If it can’t work for some employees because of limitations at home it probably won’t be successful in practice and fair to both the employee and the company. Respect people’s demands outside the office.
  • Be Available – Schedule regular calls and make it easy for your team to reach out to you. Being accessible must be both from a traditional calendar perspective as well as from the aspect of being easy to talk to.
  • Be Sensitive to the added stress technology and remote workers are going through.10 years ago if you were taking a 3 day business trip that required all-day meetings with employees and customers a lot of the “office” work waited for your return. Staying connected because you can can mean longer travel days and late nights. The few “quiet” zones in the car and airplane are now becoming locations where work is expected to be done. As airlines add Wi-Fi to planes the last sanctuary will be gone and staying “Real-Time”  while on a 5 hour cross country flight will be expected.

The answer of course is not to take any steps back or fight the changes. As leaders the issues we run into for ourselves and our employees are not because of the technology and ability to stay connected but, rather, in how we embrace, leverage and, manage to it. These technology changes create an advantage for a short period of time and quickly become table stakes. We must balance the respect for people’s time and family life with leveraging the advantages of this evolving model. There is no formula for this. Use good judgment.

We must through education and leadership deal with these items head-on and create a work environment that flourishes because of them. So next time you walk down the hall and don’t see your employees in their offices and cubes let’s hope they are working remotely, productively and actively engaged in the business. Now that’s progress.

About Frank Picarello

Frank is a well-respected leader in providing technology services to small and medium-sized businesses. He is currently COO for TeamLogic IT, Chairperson for CompTIA's Small Business Owner's Group, and a member of CompTIA's Unified Communication Committee.

View all posts by Frank Picarello

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