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Management needs to improve for telecommuting success

Telecommuting isn’t what’s wrong.

Remote teams aren’t broken.

Telework isn’t holding multinational corporations back from success.

Management is.


Hands started wringing once again when HP declared earlier this month that it needs all hands on deck.

The struggling tech corporation is starting to discourage its employees to work from home, following in the footsteps of Yahoo and Best Buy.

Kenneth Matos, senior director of employment research and practice at the Families and Work Institute, writes that some executives are using as “scapegoats for battered bottom lines.”

More training is needed for managers to effectively direct and support teleworkers, Matos says.

“Teleworkers make it very apparent when an organization’s only system for performance management is facetime,” he writes. “If you have no way of measuring an employee’s contributions except by personally watching them contribute, then you have a management problem whether they are in the office or not.”

Gosh, it feels good to read that.

Managing teleworkers is easier than it sounds … to some, that is. Many of us who work from home know we how much more productive we are when we aren’t surrounded by a busybody supervisor and co-workers who want to talk about American Idol or life in general.

Hire the right people to telecommute

The first step is making sure you have the right people in place for a work-from-home program.

Whether you’re hiring fresh talent or selecting existing members of your team to move into a home office, make sure they’re:

✓ Trustworthy
✓ Reliable
✓ Able to work independently
✓ Able to manage time well
✓ Mature
✓ Skilled with technology

Stay in touch … from a distance

A good manager knows when it’s time to be hands on and when it’s time be hands off.

Matos says organizations need to examine whether teleworkers are productive using metrics that don’t rely on being hovered over by managers.

“If teleworkers are missing the mark, they need to be managed like any other employee and given the support, information, direction or other situation specific interventions necessary to get them back on track,” he says. “For some, this will mean bringing them back into the office more or even full time.

“The point is to actually manage teleworkers (and teach managers how to do that well), not merely make all of them cease to exist.”

To get started, why not have each telecommuting employee file a brief report at the end of the day:

✓ What I did today
✓ What I plan to do tomorrow

It’s a brief email that’s easy for a manager to pick up on the next morning … or, if you have a budget for it, get a project management system or customer relationship management system.

Have more in-depth team meetings on a conference call or web conference, and learn the challenges your team members face. You’re then able to provide them with direction or assistance in overcoming those obstacles.

Your turn

It’s difficult to dispute the statistics that repeatedly show employee productivity and engagement increase when a company has a work-from-home program.

But it becomes easy for companies to make telecommuters the target when profits take a sharp dive.

Is it time to reframe the discussion and challenge management to do a better job of managing remote-work programs?

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