When I talk to business owners and managers about telework, one of the most common questions they have about flexible and remote work is: “How can I know my staff are working when they say they are working?”
Thankfully that problem is easily solved, but not by doing the same things we’ve always done in the way we’ve always done them.
I have had the opportunity of working with some of Australia’s leading proponents of flexible work. These firms have dialled up some management behaviours and dialled down others.
There are established ways of knowing when our staff are working effectively. As managers, our own job performance usually depends on the performance of our staff – what could be more important than knowing they are doing their job? Whether we check in with stakeholders, make a quick call to discuss progress, review work before it goes up the line or listen to the grassroots discussion among our teams, there are a variety of ways to monitor the work being done on our patch.
The stellar examples of successful flexible and remote work dial up these behaviours. Monitoring increases – but not in a micromanaging, breathing-down-your-neck kind of way.
This is an important distinction: it is where a lot of new players make mistakes. Micromanagement is the opposite of enabling, supporting, leading and inspiring our teams to better performance. And frankly, micromanagement doesn’t match the future of work, which is flexible and remote.
As an aside, the increase in flexible and remote work is such a dominant trend in today’s workplace that I venture that you will never hear it questioned – if you do, please get in touch and let me know. For example, the International Data Corporation recently predicted that mobile worker numbers would reach 1.3 billion globally by 2015. In Australia’s knowledge-dependent economy, the increase will be particularly felt.
So if micromanagement is not the answer, what is the best approach? It is to lead rather than micromanage.
What this means is dialling up the communication around what we agree, as a manager and team member, are the expectations of the team member’s role. It also means dialling up the openness and transparency around these expectations. The work is done more at the front end, to establish the basis of a discussion about what is and is not being achieved. I will talk more in an upcoming webinar with Digital Capability’ On the Virtual Couch with an Expert series about how to achieve openness and transparency around work expectations.
What about the habits we need to dial down? They are a lot to do with changing our expectations. In a virtual office, unless your team members work shifts, it is possible that they will not be at their desk at 9 am.
We have been trained, through force of habit, to factor in attendance as an indication of someone’s commitment to their job. Virtual managers make an assessment of whether ‘presence’ is a reasonable expectation: is attendance necessary for the person to do their job? In some cases presence is necessary: when there is a lot of collaborative teamwork; when there are clients to serve or when there are meetings to have. However, when the work is more about results, it is usually only important to meet expectations such as “be at your desk at 9 am” in particular circumstances.
You may have noticed that this habit of looking at attendance is also about moving from micromanagement to leadership. The most productive examples of flexible and remote work have worked out that micromanagement is the death of performance, while leadership enables, empowers and supports workers to achieve their best.
Another major change is moving from an inputs focus to an outputs or outcomes focus: from ‘time spent in the office’ to ‘results delivered’. Sometimes these outcomes include collaboration, development of knowledge work and other subjective outcomes. There is always a way to describe these outcomes so that they are open and transparent.
If you have further concerns about how to manage telework, your responsibilities as an employer, or would like more detail about how you can know for sure that your staff are doing their agreed work, I will be discussing these topics in the upcoming webinar with Digital Capability’ On the Virtual Couch with an Expert series and look forward to talking with you then.
Wishing you the best of business success.
To learn more about Telework Implementation, join Nina Sochon for the “On the virtual couch with a Telework Implementation Expert” webinar on 4 Februrary 2015.
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This guest blog was written by Nina Sochon.
Nina Sochon established and led the team that delivered the Federal Government’s national work from home (‘telework’) initiatives between 2011 and 2013.
Nina and her team successfully propelled flexible and remote work to the heart of the Australian conversation about work. Nina worked with significant partner companies, conducted important research to understand the real issues facing Australian businesses today and established Australia’s most authoritative website on telework: www.telework.gov.au.
Nina now assists businesses in Australia and New Zealand to cut through the confusion around flexible and remote work so they can set up a clear strategic direction, the right management style and the right systems. The result is successful, cost-saving flexible and remote work programs that give back to the business. You can receive Nina’s checklist here: 7 Ways to Prepare your Organisation for Productive, Cost-Effective New Work Patterns
Nina believes that her formal training in business management, project management and the study of effective communication, together with her experience as a manager and executive, have led to a natural capacity to understand the mechanics of successful flexible and remote work programs. Nina understands how to realise the incredible opportunities for cost savings and improved business outcomes that exist in this current wave of workplace innovation.
Nina Sochon Consulting