Managing staff or teams who work at home can be very different to managing face-to-face on-site. Effective management of homeworkers will help to ensure the success of homeworking.
This guide provides advice and tips on how to adapt management practices to this alternative way of working to keep staff engaged, productive and motivated.
How to manage homeworkers
In the May 2020 Homeworking Survey, 52% of staff reported that feeling trusted to complete their work at home was one of the positive benefits of working from home. Feelings of trust help support staff autonomy over their role and increase motivation and productivity.
Trust is critical when managing homeworkers.
The distance created by homeworking means that management changes from assessing work performance based on visibly seeing staff working in the office, to trusting them to complete their work from home. For home working to be successful trust must exist by default.
Trust staff to work autonomously and make them feel empowered to use their initiative.
Managers should examine what level of flexibility is available for staff when work is undertaken.
Flexibility around hours will enable staff to work around things like quiet or noisy periods at home, availability of IT access, and caring responsibilities for dependants.
Outline if there are core hours for the department when everyone should be available, or whether a completely flexible approach can be adopted to enable the member of staff to work when they are most productive.
Focus on outcomes not inputs
If a staff member is measured on specific goals and outcomes then they can be productive, whether this is on the Trust's sites or at home. If they are not able to deliver on goals then regardless of whether they are on-site or not you have to deal with the performance. But remember to first ask them why their performance might have changed.
Do they have all the tools they require to be able to work from home productively? What's changed in regards to motivation? Is there anything else that is impacting on them (e.g. health and well-being/personal circumstances)?
It is important for managers to empower staff to manage their time and responsibilities.
Spend time confirming expectations on key objectives and work outputs that need to be met, support required and time frame for delivery. Ensure clear communication on how performance will be reviewed and regularly feedback to staff.
Where there is disparity in the work produced, talk to the member of staff to understand why and what support may be required.
Explain how roles fit into departmental objectives
Understanding how work expectations and outputs fit into the wider department goals can help to build a culture of common purpose among teams and acknowledgement that individual input matters.
Over-communicate and cascade accurate information
Staff working from home will be cut off from organic information flow through others in the office. Take to time to communicate more and disseminate information in a timely manner from other meetings or team brief. Recognise the need to adapt and strike a balance to incorporate individual communication styles, for example, some staff may prefer video calls, others may prefer email.
Maintain regular 1:1s
Regular 1:1 meetings should be maintained with homeworkers. Keep the meetings regular and predictable and make them a forum in which the member of staff knows that concerns and questions will be heard.
Remember to take time to ask about the person alongside the work, and don’t forget to show appreciation for work completed.
As a manager ask "will staff really be more effective and/or productive if their online presence is monitored?"
Micromanagement of staff decreases productivity and heightens feelings of anxiety. Focus on productivity rather than timetabling of when work has been done.
Just as when managing staff on site, it is important to ensure that homeworkers know how to make contact if needed and communication methods are agreed.
Terms and conditions apply
Members of staff working from home are subject to the same conditions of employment governing behaviour as when they are working on site. This means:
- managers still have a duty of care to staff members and need to manage the workload and flow of work that is expected to be undertaken
- staff still need to report in if they are not fit to be undertaking their work, with absences being recorded and managed appropriately
- policies and procedures still apply when undertaking work, including information governance and data protection
Everyone understands the importance of good communication and why it is required in the work place, but the ease of communication when working on-site with staff can be easily taken for granted.
As a result of the physical separation between staff, when homeworking, it is important that communication becomes more intentional and conscious.
Improvements in technology and accessibility of telecommunication and video messaging creates the opportunity for regular, effective and meaningful communication to be maintained through adaptation and updating of practices. As new communication practices become embedded they will quickly become the new normal.
Key communication practices
- Ensure that regular team meetings are scheduled with clear agendas to enable sharing of information, updates and team building
- Schedule regular "check-ins" as a team. Consider organising "virtual coffees" or "water cooler catch-ups" where staff can have a drink and catch up with each other
- Create a safe space that allows team members to connect
- Have an agreement in place on how information, ideas and feedback will be shared across the teams to keep everyone informed on what is happening and how to access support from each other
- It is important to remember that simply because someone is a working from home does not mean they are available 24/7. Agree how staff will be informed of when the homeworker is available, e.g. through diary availability
- Don’t forget to include the best way for staff to access support during the working day, e.g. emails for updates, phone calls for urgent conversations
- Regularly touch base with staff. Even if it is just a quick call to check in, make the time to do it and agree frequency
Alternative communication approaches
|Reduction in social conversations taking place within the work environment. These are essential for team working, building rapport and reducing feelings of isolation||Make use of technology to create informal meetings to build opportunities for social conversations to take place. This could be achieved through creation of water cooler moments, virtual coffees and team huddles. These could be frequent 15-minute meetings scheduled into diaries to enable staff to keep connecting as a team, check in with each other and keep conversations and work flow on track. It is important to keep them free of agendas to enable staff to freely and openly communicate with other. Make use of technology to create dedicated spaces for celebrating special days (e.g. birthdays). Being intentional about creating a team culture helps encourage connection, which can result in increased productivity|
|Homeworkers can be missed out of key decision making or update conversations||Build a culture of adding people on calls. When in the office it is easy to ask someone to join a meeting when trying to clarify or gain expertise on a certain topic. With homeworkers this can be forgotten about. When these situations arise it’s important to use technology to bring the member of staff into the meeting or wait until they are available|
|Being unable to see body language means that key information is missed out in conversations||Research identifies that while body language can help with conversations, when visual cues are not available people will pay more attention to content and tone of voice. Therefore, important messages and undertones can still be identified. In situations where you feel that something isn’t being said, use questions to clarify understanding. Communication isn’t perfect and where intent behind a message has been missed, encourage and be open to feedback from staff to look at how things can be communicated more clearly|
|Technology can result in communication becoming hierarchical or task-focused||When communicating, take time to incorporate time for social conversations. Encourage the type of conversations that would normally take place within the office to ensure that staff feel engaged. Consider adopting a coaching style when undertaking 1:1 conversations, making use of coaching style questions such as "What's on your mind?", "How's homeworking going for you so far?", "What's your current biggest problem or challenge?", "What's working well?" etc. These help staff to consider their responses and provide opportunity to share any challenges they might be facing. Finally, make sure you listen and empathise with staff|
Managers can demonstrate active listening through: asking open-ended questions starting with “what, how, or why”; restating, summarising, and clarifying what you hear during conversations; and asking probing questions to achieve deeper insight and identify root causes of problems.
Active listening is essential in management. It involves hearing and comprehending others by asking insightful questions and checking understanding.
As a manager, you need to be able to understand problems to effectively address them. Consult with staff and learn from them.
By listening actively, it communicates to your staff that their inputs and ideas are valued, helping to increase employee satisfaction, engagement and performance.
Build in learning opportunities
Culture and context for work can often be set through social learning that takes place in the office through listening to conversations. This context help staff know how to operate and the standards of communication expected.
Homeworking reduces the exposure to this learning, but it can be built through the following:
- Standing agenda for team meetings – create an agenda item within team meetings for staff to share their learning experiences with each other. This could be achieved through all staff contributing their experiences or through nominating one member of staff each meeting to act as a learning champion
- Lunch and learn – arrange weekly or monthly "lunch and learn" virtual meetings for staff to share experiences and learning with each other
- Share and update – managers should ensure they share appropriate updates or learning from other meetings and projects
Health and safety
To promote safety of staff working from home, the Health and Safety department and Ergonomics have compiled helpful checklists and assessments for homeworkers, which are available on the health and safety information page.
Managers should ensure that all staff who are working from home have completed the assessments and returned them for review.
Remind staff that they should continue to comply with the sickness absence policy and report their sickness if they are unable to work. Staff should also be encouraged to take regular annual leave breaks to maintain their health and well-being.
It is important to look out for signs of stress for staff working from home.
When managing homeworkers, it is not as easy as being able to look up and notice that someone might be struggling or looking frustrated. Regular communication and 1:1s are important when talking to staff about their well-being and ensuring they have enough support.
For more support on managing homeworkers' well-being, please see the page on mental health and well-being support.