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Home workers should be measured by output

The COVID 19 pandemic has forced companies to adopt working from home like never before. The fact that this has worked pretty well has many organizations considering reducing office space and continuing or expanding remote operations after the pandemic ends. Going virtual long-term will present challenges and opportunities to organizations and employees. 

Already multiple companies are promoting software to help managers monitor remote employees, purportedly to keep them productive. One advertisement claims that you’ll be able to “monitor remote workers as if they’re on the desk right next to you.” That claim raises a question in my mind. Do you and your people want to live in a system where you are virtually sitting next to each of them monitoring their every move?

That raises another question. Did you spend your day monitoring every move every employee made when they were in the office? I think probably not. Certainly, employees who are goofing off are more visible when you are all in an office together, but goofing off also shows up in sub-par productivity. That should be plainly visible, whether or not you are remote. The challenge is maintaining productivity and the opportunity is rethinking how you do that. 

Almost 20 years ago I wanted to let a talented product designer work from home. She was ready to quit because she had a really long commute and wanted more time with her family. The pushback from above was immediate. How was I going to ensure she worked at the same time and for the same hours as everyone else?

Initially, I didn’t have a good answer, but then I realized the important thing wasn’t her input, it was her output. We knew how much we needed and expected her to do. We could easily monitor if it was getting done. It really wasn’t important to track her movements all day long. We went ahead successfully. In fact, she was a bit more productive without the long commute. 

False or manufactured urgency is another challenge that leaders and employees will face with more people working remotely. It’s been an issue for some employees, and now will be for many more.  

Many of you already experience this unfortunate result of smart phones, email and text messaging. The communications from managers, customers and coworkers never stop. Day, night, weekend, or holiday, the messages just keep coming and everyone seems to think they need an immediate response.  More remote workers will result in more people, who used to go home and forget work for a few hours with family, joining this hyperventilating grid. 

It’s one thing to have no private life when you’re a highly compensated manager, an entrepreneur fighting to build your dream business, or a driven workaholic. But there are plenty of very competent, productive and dedicated people who want to leave work at the office. But now the office is invading their homes. 

Having everyone connected 24/7 may seem like a leader’s dream, but an entire workplace where no one feels they have a life is probably not a good thing. It could result in resentment, retention problems, passive-aggressive behavior, or other dysfunctions. A leader should be a good steward of his or her people. That requires thinking about whether employees have the private time away from the concerns of the job that they earn, and how to manage in ways that provide that for them. New expectations and new policies may be needed. 

I believe the most successful leaders will the good stewards who can manage remote employees without draconian monitoring and with healthy respect of their private time. 

Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County. Email him at [email protected]

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