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Human contact and performance management in remote working – feature


This feature article was provided by Rachel Ayerst, senior consultant at Chameleon Training.

How can you build in human contact as well as performance management into remote working?

Remote control
Is remote working the biggest change in working life since the industrial revolution? Many believe so. A Datamonitor report has found that one in four people already work at home for part or all of their week and, by 2010, over half the workforce will be working remotely.

On the face of it organisations like this change. It promises major cost savings – over £20,000 for each teleworking manager according to one audit. It also fits with the new economy. Managers are looking to staff to be more effective, they recognise that having them tied to their desks all day is not that productive. And technology enables this change to happen - companies can support their customers 24/7 if that’s the way they want it.

Equally there’s a feel-good factor in remote working for employees too. Home working promises freedom from corporate control. It also means that people have to spend less time travelling and it’s family friendly, a key component in getting the work-life balance correct.

So is it a win-win? That depends. According to one survey 82% of employers believe that the management of their remote workers is going well. Yet only 54% of remote workers agree. That means that there could be nearly half a million disgruntled or dispirited workers out there. So what’s going wrong?

The crux of remote management is that even when the benefits are clear the most well-intentioned initiative can be derailed if it hasn’t been thought through properly. Let’s take you through a few questions:

- In your organisation where are your remote people going to be working? Will they be situated in home offices, in mobile offices, in offices dispersed across the country, in offices around the world, in different time zones?

- How will your workers be supported? What technology will they be using? What information will they have access to and what administrative support will they get?

- How will you organise work? Your organisation and your customers will have the same time and cost expectations but the reality is that with remote management, managers have to spend more time managing than before, not less.

So just what competencies do managers and remote workers need to be successful? For managers there are seven key competencies.

1. Presence. Managers need to have their team in mind at all times. They have to represent their remote team in such a way that they have real impact and influence in the business and, above all, ensure that their team isn’t forgotten.

2. External awareness. The manager has to be the eyes and ears of the team. A good example is the manager of a national airline who saw that the trend for online bookings of airfares would impact on his field-based sales team. He saw the business changing and organised training that would help them with their customer relationship skills.

3. Matching. Remote team management isn’t about making more phone calls. People have different communication preferences and it’s the manager’s responsibility to be aware of them, to find ways to match their communication with team members and to back-up communication with face-to-face meetings.

4. Confronting. It’s all too easy for people who don’t see each other face to face to let things ride. However, it is even more essential for the remote team manager to have heightened awareness around unresolved issues or unspoken feelings that could sabotage the team. The simple rule is ‘if in doubt, check it out’.

5. Communication catalyst. As well as being a clear communicator the manager also has to be looking for ways of bringing people together. You can think of this as looking for those coffee machine moments where people talk at a more personal level. Remember, people come to work to get their social needs met as well as to earn a living.

6. Self-awareness. Remote working magnifies our best qualities and our worst failings so it’s important for managers to know what these are. How do they typically manage? Do they have a command and control style or more of a coaching approach? Furthermore what happens when they find that, with a remote team, they can’t use their preferred style?

7. Empowerment. To manage remotely you have to be able to empower your team. At Chameleon we talk about ‘the practical application of trust within mutually agreed boundaries’. This brings us back to the need for good communication, for strong relationships and for clear contracts with the team as a precondition for its success.

Of course remote teamworking isn’t only about managers getting it right. Remote workers have to be ready to pick up the reins too. But that’s another article.


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