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Do you manage flexible or remote workers? Read on…

 

Our client base spans a wide variety of industry sectors and as such we spend a great deal of time in different organisations and often see how, over time, they shape and mould their businesses to adapt to prevailing trading conditions. One of the areas that has become, not just popular, but necessary, is for workers to have the opportunity to work remotely or to have a flexible working arrangement.

 

Naturally, as you might imagine any new way of doing things is going to have teething problems and bring its own unique set of challenges. One of our tasks is to help our clients overcome these problems. Following a meeting with a new client some weeks ago there were some issues raised around remote and flexible working and we thought it would be useful to share with you the suggestions as to how we dealt with them.

 

Many times, over the years I have been asked by many clients, “What (in your view) is the key to running a successful business?” A pretty general question I agree, but one that actually does have a laser targeted answer and (in my view) that answer is without a single doubt is always the same … ‘communication’.  

 

If you don’t communicate with your people then for sure, they are going to have to second guess what is going on in the business. They will get bits and pieces of information and simply make up the rest. As the saying goes. ‘if you say something often enough and for long enough, people start to believe it’. Whether you like it or not (or even believe it) rest assured that meetings take place all over your business every day. They happen in corridors, car parks and even toilets! The best way to remove the risk of ‘fake news’ is to give them the real stuff, which can be disseminated out in many ways from notice boards and newsletters to team briefings and focus groups etc.

 

So, if it’s difficult to manage and employ a clear and cohesive communication strategy when your people are actually at work, then imagine how much more of a challenge it can be when they are not physically there! The feeling of being isolated can set in really quickly if you do not have a very strong channel of communication with your remote workers. Paradoxically, ensuring that you see then as often as you can, at least weekly is vital. This would be in addition to regular contact through a variety of channels available to you such as telephone calls, Skype, email and video calls/Facetime.

 

When you do have time with them, ensure that you have a specific agenda to go through. This should include work flow and managing tasks of course, but also, remember to socialise and inform them on human matters. Update on who’s just got engaged or plans for the Christmas party etc. Anything that says, ‘we are still connected’. Communication is the key, as often and as open as you can make it.

 

One of the most important factors is to know exactly what the key elements of your job role are and each task that is required to be completed. This allows for meaningful measurement of success to be employed using relevant targets and KPI’s. This way you can monitor performance in a way that ensures all parties are in sync. Since you won’t have the usual visual confirmation of work taking place, then you must agree what the outputs are by which you can measure exactly what has been done. This is essential to avoid any misunderstandings or misconceptions about whether an individual is actually getting work done or not.

 

The challenge of becoming a flexible worker is both exciting and also a little daunting. Not just for the worker but also the person who must manage those people. It’s not like anyone has to tell you how to do your job, that’s a given, but there are other issues to consider. Such as the ability of those working remotely to manage their time effectively, organise themselves and have credible reporting systems and task management procedures. As their manager you should look to provide relevant training, coaching and guidance for your people to help them stay ahead of the curve. This can be done by using e-learning or one-to-one coaching, as well as classroom-based courses.

 

Although the right to request flexible working only became law in April 2003, the notion of arriving later or leaving early or working from home has existed for many years, and probably even before it was ever known as remote or flexible working.

 

What I mean by that is this; many years ago, my first job was for a finance company. My job was to complete and sign up finance contracts for people who were mostly buying white goods and this required a visit to the person’s house to do so. On the basis that most people are at work between 9 and 5, a large number of visits had to be completed after 5pm. Even though we were paid 9 to 5, my boss never worried when he heard myself and a colleague talking about the quick 9 holes of golf we got in on Wednesday afternoon because he knew that later that evening we would be out and about again and not getting home until 7 or 8 in the evening.

 

So, I would argue that we were flexible working and didn’t even know it. It was never labelled as such and our work contracts said that we were employed from 9 to 5. However, the job got done and during the dead time, when no one was at home, we had a little fun. This worked because we were allocated certain tasks for the week and if all of this was done by the Friday afternoon review meeting then everyone was happy.

 

What this serves to illustrate is that working flexibly or certainly when it is remote working that you don’t have to be seen to be ‘working’ all the time, like you are on call. It’s important to allow your people the chance for some downtime and that may actually be at a time when conventional thinking says that they should be at work i.e. during 9 to 5.

 

Just because you see their car outside the school at 3.30pm picking up the kids or at the shops at 10am doesn’t mean that you must assume they are slacking. By the same token you won’t have seen the same person sitting at their desk at 6am which created the time for them to go out and collect a parcel at 10am, or still working on a project at 10pm because they took time out to collect the kids in the afternoon.

 

Remove any doubt of having doubts of what is being done by employing some robust communication and reporting procedures, good task management and agreed targets and KPI’s.

 

Here at Maguire Training we have classroom-based courses and programmes that can help with managing remote and flexible workers. We are also proud to offer a versatile and intuitive suite of over a hundred e-learning modules on our website which covers a range of leadership and related management topics.

 

If you need further information then you could always call us of course on 0333 5777 144 for a no obligation discussion about your training requirements. Alternatively, simply hit the ‘Contact Us’ on any page of our website at www.maguiretraining.co.uk and we’ll get right back to you.

 

Either way it would be great to hear from you.

 

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