Rob Yeung: Nothing without trust

A recent survey commissioned by City & Guilds and the Institute of Leadership & Management shows that remote working continues on its inexorable rise. Nearly three quarters of managers say that flexible working is common in their organisation. And over a third of managers now look after teams that are either predominantly or even entirely based away from the office.

Of course none of this should surprise anyone, given the manifold benefits of allowing employees to work from home. What is slightly disappointing is that nearly one in three managers admit to monitoring closely their employees' progress. That hardly speaks of a trusting relationship, does it?

Back in the days when I used to work as an employee, I had two bosses who illustrated perfectly the dos and don'ts of managing remote workers. One boss was so mistrusting that he wanted to know exactly what work you were doing and when you were doing it. Thankfully, the other, more enlightened boss recognised that giving members of the team the freedom to work from home was as much a reward and benefit as it was about encouraging greater productivity. I can distinctly remember an occasion when my more enlightened boss rang me on my mobile to ask me how I was getting on with a piece of work. I replied that I was currently in Tesco and that I'd ring him back in an hour or so when I got home. And to his credit, the fact that I was out grocery shopping in the middle of the day wasn't a problem. The piece of work wasn't due for a couple of days and he had been ringing to see if he could help rather than to check up on me.

To make remote working work, managers must measure employees by outputs rather than inputs such as when they do the work or how long it takes. So long as employees' jobs allow them to do it, good managers should not care whether employees work from 9am till 5pm or 9pm till 5am - it should be up to individual employees to decide on their own most productive ways to work.

However, employees must remember that there is a downside to working from home too. Being in the office may mean you get disturbed more often and are less productive, but being able to engage in office banter around the water cooler is essential for maintaining relationships with both peers and decision-makers. When managers decide whom to promote or send on that sexy project overseas, bear in mind that profile and visibility count. Employees who forget that success at work is as much about building relationships as doing tasks may fall prey to the old adage: out of sight, out of mind.

Dr Rob Yeung is an executive coach at leadership consulting firm Talentspace. He is the author of over a dozen books including The Rules of Networking and The Rules of Office Politics (Cyan/Marshall Cavendish).

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