I was listening to a talk show on the radio yesterday, and was stunned at how inflexible managers are about giving staff time off to take care of sick children, or deal with other personal matters. And it was not just women: a man related the sad tale of how, because his wife suffered from severe post-partum depression leaving responsibility for caring for his new baby to him, he was actually fired. That’s beyond insensitive – it’s just plain cruel!
Can companies afford to lose good people simply because they are totally inflexible? There are almost always alternatives, unless the job is a customer-facing one. Companies should consider making a large percentage of their workforce mobile, and allowing them the option of working from home.
If you think about it, a mobile workforce makes a lot of sense.
- The company can drastically reduce its office space, and all the associated costs such as electricity and supplies.
- Workers will not spend many frustrating hours commuting. So they are less stressed, the roads are less congested, and it’s a “green” option.
- The younger generations are blending their work and family responsibilities with greater opportunities to put more balance in their lives. They are prepared to put in long hours, but at times that suit them. The “net-generation” has grown up with technology, and so is perfectly adept at using all the technologies at their disposal: laptop computers; tablets; Smartphone’s – and the connectivity that makes all of these things work. An employee does not have to be in a specific place to work. The “net-generation” is also considered to be the smartest generation, so will be unlikely to accept having to work in the old way
- All workers should be judged on their outputs; just because someone is sitting at their desk, does not mean they are actually doing productive work.
- Virtual meeting technology enables remote meetings, but do remember that many meetings can be replaced by a well-written memo!
So why aren’t more companies making their workforce mobile, and allowing them to work from home, the local coffee shop, or anywhere else they might find themselves? Well much of it is down to management attitudes, which I have listed in italics together with my rebuttal.
- Employees cannot fully contribute if working from home. Actually, the contrary is usually the case. The hours usually spent commuting are used for working. Reduced stress makes people more productive.
- I will not be able to manage the employees if they are not at work. If you can’t manage them if they are not under your nose, you are a very old-fashioned manager. Also, it’s all about trust. It’s important to trust your employees wherever they are located. And if you find you can’t trust them, do some soul-searching – maybe you don’t trust yourself. And if they are really untrustworthy, do you really want them working for you?
- I will not be able to reach them quickly enough. Why would it take longer to call someone on the mobile phone than an interoffice extension? Part of the contract should be that employees are always reachable during office hours.
- Wanting to work from home is certainly not something I would expect from a fast tracker. What – are you serious? Fast trackers are the people most likely to want to want to work from home. They know what they want and how to get there, and will probably be more focused without the distractions of an office.
- Home workers are not team players. It’s up to the leader to build a cohesive team.
- Homes can be too disruptive to work effectively. There should be an agreement with the employee that they will have a space that can be closed off from the rest of the house. If the person does not have a home office conducive to productive work, then the company should consider assisting to finance the necessary alterations. Budget for it along with budgeting for the technology.
- Face-to-face contact is what I am most comfortable with. Get over it – times have changed!
- We need to be able to rally quickly, brainstorm, solve problems, which can only be done together in the office. This should not be necessary that often. However, you can brainstorm virtually. If it’s really necessary to bring everyone together, call a meeting at the office.
- There is no way to know what they are really doing at home. And neither should you care, as long as they are delivering what is asked of them.
The keys to success with virtual teams are:
- You must lead differently. You need to ensure everyone (including yourself) has a clear and unambiguous role description, with competencies that can be assessed.
- Communication is vital. You must be clear and unambiguous in all interactions with staff.
- Concentrate on creating a highly defined process where team members deliver specific results in a repeated sequence – this builds reliability and trust
If you are changing to a mobile workforce, there is a need to hold some workshops with your staff to discuss the new way of working. You can use this forum to set some ground rules. The move must be managed like any change process.
Sure, not everyone is going to survive the change – but your high-performers will thrive. And aren’t those the ones you really want to keep as highly-engaged, happy and productive workers?