Archive for the ‘Career Transition and Outplacement’ Category

Managing Telecommuters

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013
Managing Telecommuters

Image courtesy of Ambro /

When I was completing my MBA, I got asked a question from an IT manager: “If my company allows me to work from home, why is my senior manager so against it?”

Many companies have a “work-from-home” program or allow workers to telecommute. Yet managers often have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the idea that people who are at home are actually working.

It could be because some workers who do not come into the office are not actually working. In one of my client’s companies, there was a logistics manager who “worked from home” every time he was sick, or his son was sick. This only happened after his five sick days had been used. He did this so he could get paid instead of taking a day off without pay. Needless to say, his privileges to work from home were taken away when he started to work from home more often than in the office.

This sort of abuse is not the norm. But because we all know someone who pushes the limits and takes advantage of things, it gives tele-workers a bad rap.

So what does it take for a manager to believe that their staff are actually working, when they are not working in the office?

First off, consider whether the worker is getting their work done. Delivering expected results is part of the employment contract, regardless of where that work gets done. So if the worker performs according to plan, you can be fairly sure they are doing the work.
Is the worker available to take calls? Workers who work from home should be available during core business hours to discuss business-related issues that may pop up. This does not mean that the manager should fabricate reasons to call, but if there is a bone fide reason, the worker should be available to take the call.

If when you call you hear a baby crying in the background, the television blaring, or sounds of the shopping mall, there may be reason to question whether the employee is actually giving work their full, undivided attention, and you may need to address the need to make acceptable daycare arrangements, keeping distractions to a minimum, or not taking business calls when the employee is out on the town.
That being said, just because the worker may be at the grocery store at 2:00 in the afternoon when their manager calls does not mean the worker is not taking care of business. One of the perks of working from home is the ability for the employee to flex their time. Depending on the nature of the work being done, there are a lot of things that can be done off the normal business workday.

I have worked from home for over 15 years, and I can guarantee that I have rarely worked a straight 9:00 to 5:00 workday. I may be writing policies at 6:00 am, or finishing off a report at 11:00 pm, after having enjoyed a refreshing nap in the early afternoon. The work I do as a management consultant allows me that luxury. But if I need to be on an important telephone call, then I am there. And so should your employees working out of the office. Personal errands should never take precedence over business during the business workday.

So here are a few tips for managers who have staff who work from home:
Insist that the worker has adequate day care arrangements for small children. It is difficult to get work done when children think that mommy or daddy are there for them. Older children, from about the age of 8, can normally occupy themselves, so allow for some lenience in your policy.

Monitor the output, not the timing. Working from home can really boost productivity if staff are allowed to flex their work times according to their personal rhythm. As I stated earlier, I am not worth too much mid-afternoon, but early in the day or in the evening, I’m totally “on”.

If you need workers to be “working” during critical times, set that out in the agreement. There can be core hours (perhaps from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm) that the worker must be available, but let them decide the flow for the rest of their day. Your staff will appreciate it, and the company will get more “bang” for their buck.

If you have reason to believe that a worker is not actually doing the work, meet with them to discuss your concerns. Do not wait until you are frustrated because Bob does not pick up the phone at 2:00 in the afternoon, or that he is sending emails to you at 10:00 at night. Communication is vital to the success of any telecommuting relationship.

Trust is also vital. Employees know when their manager is fabricating a reason to call them when working from home. Nobody likes to be checked up on by an untrusting manager – and it will hurt their productivity more than it is worth.

Make sure you have a “Working From Home” policy and agreement, one that telecommuters read and sign, before allowing staff to work from home. There are many benefits to both the worker and the company when staff are given the opportunity to cut down on their commute or to work when they are at their best. But a well laid-out policy makes sure that everyone is aware of the priorities, responsibilities, and accountabilities from the start.
For more information on how we can help you manage your entire workforce, both in the office and off-site, give us a call!

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