As we step into 2013, managers across the world continue to grapple with the growing trend of employees preferring to ‘work from home’. ‘Work from home’ is an alternative form of work arrangement typically applicable in certain IT and ITES organizations, that involves ‘home-based’ employees (HBEs) who work primarily from home and not in a typical traditional office environment. (For the purpose of this discussion, HBEs also include independent home-based contractors or consultants, who are usually part-timers).
Interestingly, more and more organizations have started to realize some of the positive aspects of nurturing this trend which can provide considerable benefits to an organization in terms of –
1) Cost savings in real estate and office overhead expenses;
2) Improved work-life balance leading to lower attrition and improved employee morale;
3) Ability to retain talent who would otherwise be lost due to relocations or personal exigencies which require them to spend more time at home; and
4) Access to a bigger and diverse talent pool of prospective employees who are not within the same city or even the country where the office(s) are located; and
5) Business Continuity when the office has to be closed down due to political unrest, natural calamities, etc.
Of course, there are other related advantages like lesser stress for employees due to minimal ‘commuter woes’, reduced travel costs and an overall positive impact on the environment.
When an organization has a mix of office-based employees (OBEs) and HBEs, it is essential to have good managers who are able to manage both the OBEs and HBEs effectively and build a great cohesive team. However, managing HBEs may prove to be challenging to a manager who is usually used to managing a team of OBEs. As it is, managing OBEs face-to-face in the workplace is most often than not challenging enough for most managers …. managing remote HBEs adds further complexity and thus, requires additional managerial skills and competencies and a completely different managerial mindset.
So let’s discuss how managers can overcome some of the challenges of managing HBEs by developing a different mindset and acquiring skills and competencies that are necessary to create a high-performing team that has a mix of both OBEs and HBEs.
At the outset, let me start with the ‘broad brush’ premise that managers are usually focused on the following aspects of day-to-day management -
1) Resource management – ensuring the optimal number of employees are available and are allocated, according to their skills and competencies to the right assignments through appropriate scheduling.
2) Productivity and performance management – making sure that the employees are optimally utilized and their performance is appraised objectively to ensure that they are fully productive.
3) Employee engagement – creating and nurturing a work culture based on trust and effective communication to ensure that the employees are strongly ‘connected’ to the organization in a collaborative and high-performing work environment leading to superior customer value propositions.
4) Employee development and Talent management – ensuring that employees develop the requisite skills and competencies to achieve success in their current and future assignments and making sure that a process of meritocracy is used to differentiate performance and potential to create a talent management program to ensure individual career success.
5) Adherence to compliance – establishing processes and procedures to ensure compliance to organization and customer data security and confidentiality requirements.
6) Employment Laws – adhering to local and global legal statutory requirements that govern the employment ‘contract’ between the employee and the organization.
Of course, one can add a few more aspects of managerial work to the above, but for the purpose of this discussion, I would like to limit the scope to the above few major activities.
Based on the above, I propose a few guidelines which I consider, are essential for managing HBEs –
1) The first and foremost important thing that a manager must realise is that managing HBEs requires a completely different mindset than managing OBEs. It is often seen (and I have spoken to quite a few managers who manage HBEs) that there is an inherent tendency amongst managers and co-workers to perceive that HBEs do not put in a ‘honest day’s work’ or are often ‘slacking’ as compared to the OBEs who can be observed to be ‘slogging’ at their workplaces for more than 8 hours each day. This I believe, is an erroneous perception which is deep rooted in our cultural and social environment and managers who manage HBEs must struggle to come out of it. The hypothesis here is that ‘visibility’ to OBEs ensures monitoring and control and managers are often found to be ‘micro-managing’ their team members at the workplace.
The key word here is TRUST. The fundamental element of any workplace relationship between a manager and an employee (whether OBE or HBE) is Trust. Managers of HBEs should reorient their mindsets to this fact.
Three important principles apply here –
i. The manager has to change his/her mindset to measure ‘output’ in terms of the mutually agreed deliverables rather than the hours spent at the desk. This applies to both OBEs and HBEs. Manage by ‘results’ and not by ‘presence’ is the fundamental key to managing HBEs.
ii. Further, the manager has to trust the HBEs to manage their time and workloads and work independently at different time intervals. This means that the manager must learn to empower the HBEs and move towards more ‘hands off’ style of management and yet make sure that the HBE is an integral part of the team’s contribution to the organization. Fundamentally, we are talking about shifting the mindset of the manager and the HBE from close supervision to empowering and self-monitoring.
iii. Finally, trust and results are fine, but reinforce it with objective productivity and performance data. It is important for the manager to keep track of the HBEs progress on a daily basis so that he is able to monitor his productivity and performance and decide when to intervene if things do not go as planned.
2) ‘Out of sight … out of mind’. This is a common phenomena that occurs among managers who manage HBEs. Managers with more visibility to OBEs often ignore communicating adequately with the HBEs. However, It is important for the manager to be able to maintain a high level of contact with the HBEs on a daily basis by acquiring the skills and competencies of going beyond the usual facets of ‘face-to-face’ communication and make sure that they adopt appropriate communication strategies (both formal and informal) for HBEs. The manager must realize that it’s very easy for a HBE to feel ‘unconnected’ or ‘disengaged’ due to lack of proper communication and must therefore maintain a high level of contact through several mutually agreed ‘touch points’ to ensure that the HBEs are integrated within the organization and the team in terms of its vision, mission, strategic objectives and culture.
3) Further, managers of HBEs are often challenged in terms of appraising their productivity and performance remotely. I would like to stress here that the same performance and productivity norms should apply to both OBEs and HBEs. Regular use of technology to track output and continuous interactions to monitor progress and deliverables is essential. Productivity and performance standards should be same for OBEs and HBEs so that there are no perceived inequities amongst both the employee groups.
4) The issue of integrating HBEs within the organization’s employee development and talent management framework is also an important aspect that needs to be managed. Though they work from home, HBEs have always expressed a desire to be part of the organization mainstream and one way to have them integrate within the organization is to have them as part of the overall organizational talent management grid. Some HBEs choose the ‘work from home’ option temporarily to tide over certain personal exigencies and are often keen to convert to OBEs at a later date and thus look forward to be active participants in the organization’s talent management scheme. With more and more organization moving towards the 70-20-10 framework of employee development, HBEs should form an integral part of the organization’s learning and development initiatives. A robust induction program (recommended face-to-face) and continuous developmental initiatives, both technical and soft skills through eLearning, webinars, podcasts, etc. Helps the HBE to remain current with the technical, managerial and organizational aspects of the job.
5) While working from home, HBEs are often privy to confidential and proprietary customer and organizational information. Managers must work very closely with the HBEs to make sure that they understand the issues related to compliance and adhere to the organization’s policies governing information security. Issues like clear desk policy, password policy, customer information confidentiality must apply equally to both OBEs and HBEs and may be difficult to monitor at the HBE level. Nevertheless, using technology and personal interventions, the manager must ensure that these compliances and thoroughly understood and adhered to by the HBEs.
6) Finally, managers must be conversant with the various nuances of the legal statutes that govern HBEs. A thorough knowledge of disciplinary procedures, terminations and statutory payments as applicable to HBEs is essential for the manager to acquire.
So, in conclusion, the HBE managers should have adequate skills and competencies to –
1) Motivate remote employees;
2) Handle conflicts in virtual settings;
3) Communicate convincingly from afar;
4) Create a tightly-knit team that stays loose; and
5) Provide continuous coaching and mentoring to HBEs to help them be self-motivated by clearly outlining their goals, making them responsible for results, and generating individual accountability plans with a self-monitoring system;
HR plays a crucial role in this aspect and I will discuss this aspect in a later post.
We at People Performance Practitioners are currently engaged with a few organizations to help restructure and reorganize the way that HBEs are being managed for optimal business results.
I would love to have your comments on this post!
Thank you and Cheers!