By 2009, one-quarter of the world’s working population will be mobile workers, according to a July 2007 study issued by Cisco Systems Inc. That estimate is probably out dated and an underestimate with the rise in gas prices over the past year. Most of the clients we have at Maver Management Group have some form of telecommuting within their organization.
What are some of the best practices for leading and managing this type of workforce?
The process actually starts with hiring the right type of manager for mobile workers.
* They must be results-oriented rather than process-driven. That is, they need to be comfortable seeing only what mobile workers get done and not what they're doing moment to moment.
* Managers must be at ease with email, instant messaging, video conferencing and plain old phone calls as their means of communicating with mobile workers. They can’t walk down the hall and see what is happening.
* Managers must also be able to empathize with workers whom they don’t see often in order to know when someone is under stress or is feeling isolated from the team and in effect provide the management touch to them..
* Managers must know how often and in what tone to communicate with mobile workers. E-mails and text messages are flat and don’t often convey the right tone, if any.
Managers who are new to supervising telecommuting employees may have a tendency to micromanage. It can be due to a sense of lost control. Remote employees, in turn, can misunderstand this as a lack of confidence in their performance. With little face time to resolve misunderstandings or to address questions from either side, such issues can quickly cause tension in a company. Those in charge need to make sure all employees are delivering on their responsibilities and meeting deadlines, in a way that makes sense to managers who don’t get a chance to know them well in person. Managers have to become comfortable managing by end results, rather than by face-to-face interaction.
As for the workers, there are also some characteristics that lead to increased success. The Cisco Systems study identified several critical traits and of course it helps if there has been previous telecommuting experience.
* Independent decision-makers, like to work without supervision.
* Disciplined achievers, conscientious and self-motivated.
* Emotionally stable, with low levels of neuroticism and the ability to cope well with pressure.
* Creative, open-minded and seek a variety of experiences.
* Organized with an ability to put their fingers on what is needed without outside help..
Too often, however, companies have allowed or encouraged telecommuting without even considering several important questions that this practice raises. These include:
* How does having so-called virtual employees change the nature of your business?
* Who makes a good candidate for telecommuting?
* How do you supervise such workers?
* What other adjustments must you make if your business is to work most efficiently?
* What are the technological capabilities of their home office?
* Are there any limitations to the time the employee can spend at their desk and when can they be available for communication?
This clearly isn’t as easy as it may first appear. Here are a couple of additional tips on the human side of managing this workforce.
* A sense of camaraderie can obviously be difficult to maintain when workers are in different locations. Email and Instant Messenger are important communication tools, but they certainly don’t substitute for face-to-face interaction. Schedule face to face as often as practical. If possible, have employees come into the main office on a regular basis. If this isn’t possible use vehicles such as Skype, MSN or other face to face opportunities.
* Make sure to include work-at-home employees in career training and long term planning. Solicit their input in creative decisions. Most importantly, communicate often.
* Have remote employees participate in regular staff meetings by telephone conference call. And send frequent email updates to all parties involved in a project, so everyone remains in the loop. It can be very lonely out there.
* Recognize that there are going to be time differences, cultural differences and language differences, so be prepared to understand these in advance to avoid the pitfalls.
This is the way of the future and the successful companies will learn to handle this well. Let us know how we can help.
Maver Management Group