Managing the People
Managing a mobile workforce involves more than just number-crunching. In Part One, we covered strategies for managing the output of a telecommuting team—that is, promoting and tracking productivity. But what about managing the people?
A Balancing Act
Studies from Stanford University and Pennsylvania State University have found that people who work from home enjoy greater overall job satisfaction, better work-life balance and lower stress levels, all of which contribute to improved productivity. The benefits of teleworking for both companies and employees are manifold and well-documented.
That said, managing a mobile workforce still remains a delicate balancing act between allowing the individual a greater measure of freedom and making sure that the in-office culture of engagement and collaboration extends to the telecommuting team.
Experts believe that the key to this balancing act is a strong corporate identity.
A Strong Corporate Identity
There’s been an interesting trend among big-name businesses over the past couple of years: as small and midsize companies revamp their policies to accommodate telecommuting, many big businesses are doing the opposite and encouraging employees to get back to the office.
Examples include Yahoo, Best Buy and Hewlett-Packard, all of which have either axed or revised their teleworking programs in favor of the more traditional office-based setup. The need for greater collaboration and innovation is the driving force behind this change, along with concerns over the disconnect between remote and in-house teams.
The main takeaway for this is the need for a stronger company culture. A successful organization is built on the sharing of common goals and visions among all team players. No matter where your employees are based, you need to pay attention to these two things:
- Frequent communication patterns. One of the biggest risks in telecommuting is the lack of communication between mobile and in-house employees. Such a breach can result in a failure to collaborate properly on mission-critical projects or—less tangibly but no less significantly—a loss of sense of purpose.
Management Tip: Schedule regular in-person all-hands meetings to make sure everyone stays on the same page.
- Appropriate technology. As mentioned in Part One, you want your in-office work setup to be mirrored in your teleworkers’ remote workspaces as closely as possible. More importantly, you want an IT environment capable of supporting your remote team’s communication and collaboration needs.
Management Tip: Cloud-based services are one of the best ways to streamline document storage and facilitate collaboration across the entire organization, independent of your work setup.
What about control?
Organizational behavior and management expert Charles Handy raised this question in the May 1995 issue of Harvard Business Review: “How do you manage people whom you do not see?”
The answer, he says, is by trusting them. This goes against the grain of managerial tradition, which is all about maximum efficiency brought about through maximum control. This is why a telecommuting setup is a challenge for many managers: to make it work, you need to learn to ease up on the individual reins while making sure nobody strays from the group’s main path. Management is a balancing act in more ways than one.