HUMAN RESOURCES : Remote Working – It’s About Trust – New Challenges

Remote working, while not yet widespread in New Zealand, is on the increase for two reasons. It is good way to attract people to work who otherwise might not want to travel into the city and it can be cost effective for employers.
Employing staff to work from home gives employers access to staff with the skills they need, no matter where they may be based. And while our country’s broadband network has room for improvement, it does offer many people the facilities to log into company networks – just as though they were sitting at desk on-site.
And once the concept of staff working remotely has been accepted, it opens up the possibility of employing people with the skills company needs no matter where in the world they may be.
That said, while companies may save money on office space and infrastructure, it creates new set of problems for the manager charged with ensuring their department runs smoothly – even though many of their staff may not be within earshot.
The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” springs instantly to the fore. And it appears managers do have to work little harder than usual to manage staff that work remotely. Communication has to be clearer and there can be no grey areas over goals and outcomes.
Kevin McMahon is partner with Blue Chip Coaching and works as business coach, facilitator and change agent. He says all aspects of leadership have to be stronger when manager is responsible for the outcomes of staff that are not working in the same office.
“A good relationship and trust is essential,” he says. “But I think there are number of aspects that manager would need to have stronger focus on – in other words – the remote worker must be clear on what they need to do and have bought into the vision of the business or the unit they are working for.
“They couldn’t be ambivalent or un­aware of what it was. The company’s specific goals and outcomes that the individual needs to achieve need to be much more clearly articulated than you might otherwise get away with. Performance measurements also need to be stronger.”
McMahon says while some people may argue that measurements need to be strong in every case, he says they are non-negotiable with remote or virtual workers.
“Whether managers or leaders admit it or not, the fall-back position of many of them is ‘how long has member of staff been seen sitting at their desk working’,” he says.
“For some roles, and for some managers, knowing that member of their team has been highly productive – even when they haven’t seen them for the last five days, can be big challenge. So they need to get beyond that and to very clearly identify true measurement and reporting.”
McMahon says the recruitment of staff to work remotely needs to be done with special care.
“The profiling and selection of those people needs to take into account that it is virtual role,” he says. “Because some personality profiles are not suited to it. If you employ somebody who is highly affiliative then they won’t do well operating from remote location – be that on the road or home office.”
McMahon says affiliative people need to be able to bounce ideas off colleagues at work and use colleagues as an unconscious source of motivation. Left alone they could become unmotivated and lose sight of their goals, he says.
“One of the things affiliative people do is talk to the person at the next desk and benefit from the energy of that interaction.”
He says many remote workers do not have that opportunity. But he concedes that those in sales or marketing – who are working remotely and travelling to meet clients – will benefit from talking with them. Even if they are not work colleagues in the purest sense.
“Remote workers need to have certain attributes, to be able to self-start and be self-sufficient. Those attributes are pretty critical,” says McMahon. “And I would advise hiring managers to test for that in psychological profiling. I’d recommend profiling anyway – but even more so when hiring for these types of roles.”
He says trust between managers and their staff, especially when they work remotely, is must.
“For example, if calls or emails go unanswered then the manager has to act pretty quickly to discover what is going on,” says McMahon. “Is it because their remote worker is committed to some other area of their life or other part-time work. The manager would need to establish what is underpinning that behaviour.”
And it is here that McMahon says that clear, explicit instructions and desired outcomes must be communicated in way that leaves little doubt in the mind of the employee of what is expected of them.
But even remote workers should make it into the office when possible, says McMahon. Perhaps as much as twice week.
“One of the ways you can get the best of both worlds in terms of managing virtual team is to have remote workers visit the office maybe once or twice week,” he says. “To have meeting with the manager and interact with the team in way that is productive. Not just for the sake of interacting.
“There is no doubt that there are huge benefits for most people who feel they are part of an organisation, part of team.”
That is view shared by Kerry-Ann Stanton, business and organisation performance coach. She says remote workers often feel they are missing out in some way – even when it suits them to work away from the office.
“They may or may not be missing out, but they can feel isolated, unloved, undervalued, and that is all part of not being at the office or part of the tearoom/water cooler conversations or regular meetings,” says Stanton.
“Remote workers can feel they are not up with the play, or part of office politics or any opportunities that may arise.”
Stanton says remote workers need to feel connected with their company and that managers need to factor that in and counter the employee’s perception of being excluded with regular calls, emails and texts.
“They are the things that keep relationships happening,” says Stanton. “Trust is huge one. As country we are pretty new to remote working and so there is some fine-tuning to do. But managers have to drive the relationships and say ‘this is what we are going to do and these are the reasons why’.
“They do need to tell their staff that they value supporting them but need to know how it is going. They need to know what’s working, what isn’t working and then factor in things no one considered before the remote working started.”
Stanton says it all comes down to basic human courtesy and that managers shouldn’t feel they are checking up on staff, but merely seeing that everything is okay. On the other hand, remote workers shouldn’t think twice about telephoning their boss for quick catch up.
Kevin Holland used to work remotely for company based abroad and found daily contact with his boss was essential for keeping up to speed with what was happening.
“I’d have access to the company intranet so I could always see any announcement of people coming and going, new contracts won, or any issues the company wanted to share with us,” says Holland.
“But every morning I’d telephone my manager without fail, even if I had nothing to report. We’d chat for between five to 30 minutes until neither of us had any more to say – it was very relaxed. That way I got to hear about anything that had happened in the office the previous day and I’d get to know if anything was specifically required of me that day.”
Holland says many calls were conference calls involving his colleagues sitting in with his manager and that the daily conversations really helped break down the barriers and keep everyone “on the same page”.
“I’d hear if colleague was off on holiday or sick and so understand if my emails to them were not answered,” says Holland.
“We’d also have video conference once every three weeks so we could see each other’s face and once every two months I’d fly out to spend week at the office. Not because I was needed there, but just to keep in touch and keep th

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