7 worries managers have about remote working

744753_lowby Jacqui Hogan

Where’s my team?

With all the technology we have available these days, you would be forgiven for thinking that managers would welcome a request from a team member to work from home in a more flexible way. But, as you have seen from recent news from Yahoo and others, even companies who spend a lot of money on making remote working possible, are now pulling people back into the office.

But why?

Remote working makes sense strategically – saving office costs, retaining staff etc., and staff generally like it – increased flexibility, saving commuting costs etc.

So why doesn’t it work in practice?

The answer is that managers do not traditionally work in a way that enables remote working to be effective. Managers are taught, or have learned from their peers, that you need to supervise staff in order for them to be effective. The traditional approach is that you give them instructions then watch them carry them out. We are also wedded to the concept of ‘presenteeism’. In other words we measure progress not just by what people deliver, but by what they do and how many hours they spend doing it.

Here are 7 worries worries managers have about remote working.

1.     I need to see you to know you’re working

How do I know you’re working if I can’t see you? After all, we all know that working from home is a euphemism for bunking off! But, these days, you can’t be sure your team is working even if you CAN see them! They may be playing games, talking to their friends on Facebook, chatting round the coffee machine etc., etc.

Can you set clear and measurable objectives, agree deliverables and then trust your team members to deliver? You’ll also need an agreed way of progress reporting, but in most cases – yes.

2.     You’ll work faster if I check in with you frequently

Progress reporting doesn’t mean you as their manager phones them every 10 minutes! If you did this in the office, your team would get pretty fed up very quickly; it would also distract them from their work and exhaust you.

So why do managers feel they need to do this with remote workers?

Agree milestones with each person, and then leave them to get on with it. For non-project managers, a milestone is a regular checkpoint to measure progress.

3.     No need to exchange social niceties

You may be thinking that remote working will be saving all that chat time round the coffee machine? Well, people interact like this for a good reason. Social interaction is vital to establishing effective working relationships, exchanging information, problem solving, idea generation etc. etc. The better people know each other, the better they will work together. So when you have group online meetings, allow time for these social discussions before and afterwards. And don’t avoid taking part yourself.

4.     I need you to be available at any time

This is similar to the first point, and is based on lack of trust. Managers often forget that flexible working can often mean that team members will not all work the same hours or in the same way. And that that is ok. Agree with each person how they want to work, so you will know, generally, when to call them. It DOES mean you’ll have to be more flexible too, and respect their time. Unless it’s an emergency, does it really matter if you don’t get an instant answer?

5.     If you don’t ask for help, everything must be ok

In the same way that you shouldn’t check in with your team every 10 minutes, don’t forget to check in on them regularly to see if they may need help. This will obviously vary according to the individual. You should also make sure that your team feel comfortable that, if they come to you for help, you won’t just yell at them for being off target. Remember too, that it can often be harder for people to phone you for help than to pop over to your desk or office.

6.     Innovators need to be in the same room together

After all, online discussions mean one person speaking while everyone else checks their email!

While it is true that having everyone in the same room is better, this isn’t always possible. I’m currently working on an innovative collaboration with team members all over the world. It just isn’t feasible, or affordable, for us all to meet physically; we have found that small group collaborations are both possible and productive. It takes a bit longer to get to and go through the storming stage, as it takes to longer to get to know someone remotely. It gets easier with practice.

7.     Important conversations need to be face-to-face

Sometimes this is true e.g. performance issues etc. However, don’t use this as an excuse not to have the conversation until it becomes even more serious. If you need to have the conversation now, you need to have it now, even if it has to be remote.


If you’re serious about remote working, don’t just assume that your managers will make it work without some help. Managing remote workers IS a challenge, and managers need to discuss beforehand what and how they will change.

Click here for Jacqui’s latest book – ‘Together Works: The Ultimate Guide to Ecollaboration’

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Email Jacqui Hogan or call 01494 680997

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