Working from home can be an adjustment for workers who are used to the office routine. But it can be an even bigger adjustment for managers who are used to the daily hands-on interactions with their staffs.
Tech-oriented companies who have long handled a distributed workforce can show how to do it right.
As the founder of a technology company, we have supported most of our office functions in a distributed fashion for several years, with some team members working remotely from home and others in different states.
The biggest challenge as a manager is trust.
Trusting your employees to actually be “at work” is the most difficult change I had to make in my mindset over the years as we supported more remote workers.
I grew up in a factory town. I began my career at a large insurance carrier. I knew work meant showing up at 8:30, having two 15-minute breaks plus an hour for lunch, and leaving no sooner than 5 p.m.
With people not working in the office where I can walk around and see them, how did I know they were doing anything?
The temptation was to use one of the many monitoring software tools to see if they were logged in. A virtual time clock where they could punch in just like the factories of my youth.
But measuring the productivity of your workers is more than making sure they are sitting at their desk.
Instead, we developed measurements based on the job each person was performing. I care less about when they get a thing done than that they get things done.
Being available to take phone calls and to respond to emails during our normal office hours requires staff doing those jobs to be available during normal office hours.
For these tasks, I really do not need to know they are online, I just need a report on phone call activity. I can get this from our phone log of incoming calls.
I can also review our shared notes on customer interactions in our CRM systems. If there is a significant difference in the incoming calls and the CRM system notes it’s easy to see where we are falling down.
The final key to making this work has been to allow our customers to do as much self-service as possible.
For many businesses this means making online payments, requesting changes or documents online, or providing information and e-signatures.
These are all readily available services, but if you are not using them I strongly advise you think through them first, then test them with your own staff before you release them into the wild.
Self-service needs a way for you to track activity. You need to be able to see where in your self-service processes you are losing your users.
Many people list three stages of transition from working in an office to completely distributed work supporting a remote workforce.
You are probably moving past stage one, where all work is done in a common office, but you can miss a day using your cell phone and home WiFi.
You are just starting to move to stage two, where you try to recreate what you did at the office but you try to do it online.
After a while you will start to think about stage three, where you change routines to take advantage of this new work environment.
With a little bit of practice and following some of my advice on building trust, you can adjust your business to this new normal for the time being and help your workforce stay productive while also feeling supported.
By Duke Williams, Founder of Simply Easier Payments
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