Managers still suspicious of home working

Jul 30 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

The remote working revolution is being hampered because many mangers are unable to break free of the mindset that they can only manage a team that is physically there in front of them.

Managers are torn between giving in to the growing demands from employees to be allowed to work at least part of the time from home and still feeling that if workers are not physically at their desks, they are up to no good.

The vast majority of managers say they trust employees to work from home and recognise they will not spend the whole time watching daytime TV or bunking off to the shops, a study by the UK's City & Guilds and Institute of Leadership & Management has concluded.

But scratch the surface and managers remain deeply unhappy about letting employees out of their sight, much preferring to manage a team that is physically sat there in front of them.

The research has found that, while nine out of 10 managers said they trusted remote workers and three quarters recognised they were more productive, a significant minority admitted they were still unable to break their old-fashioned "presenteeism" management style.

This was despite the fact that new technology was making remote working a much more viable option.

The survey found that for three quarters of managers flexible working was now common in their organisation, with more than a third of managers now looking after teams who were either entirely or predominantly based away from the office.

Unsurprisingly, it's a similar story in the U.S, where a survey this week by recruiter Robert Half Technology has found telecommuting among IT professionals growing apace.

Nearly half of the 1,400 chief information officers polled said their IT workforce was telecommuting at a rate that was either the same or higher than five years ago.

But the City & Guilds research found, while more employees were working remotely, the management skills and training to deal with this evolution in working style had yet to catch up.

Nearly half of the managers polled said they were unprepared for the supervision of remote teams, and only a quarter had received any training on how to manage such a team.

While nearly three quarters believed remote workers were more productive, and nine out of 10 said they trusted their remote employees, a third also confessed to wanting to monitor their employees closely, just to make sure.

Chris Humphries, director general of City & Guilds, said managers were uncomfortable with leading and motivating flexible teams.

"The UK's professional culture is still built on long hours if you're visible, you're accountable. In reality, this means we reward people who take a long time to get the job done, rather than those who do it most effectively," he pointed out.

Kim Parish, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management added that management training needed to catch up with the advances in technology that allowed flexible and remote working.

"While new technology allows massive changes to our working patterns, the behaviour of some managers and team members lags behind.

"Managers need new skills and attitudes to ensure they reap the benefits of flexible and remote working. This is just one of the areas where modern management and leadership qualifications, like those of ILM, can improve the performance of managers and organisations," she said.

The survey highlighted particular skills gaps around communication and team bonding, as well as appropriate use of emerging technologies.

Long distance, virtual relationships with staff members can be demanding and a third of the managers polled confessed that they needed to improve the way they communicated with their teams.

In addition, while six out of 10 managers said their IT systems supported remote working, half believed they were not exploiting the networking technology to the full.

Fewer than a fifth used audio conferencing and instant messaging, and only 10 per cent use video conferencing.

Peter Thomson, director of the Future Work Forum at Henley Management College, said: "Today's managers are very aware of the commercial and competitor advantages associated with more flexible employers, however they are struggling to turn theory into practice and clearly need support to adapt their supervision styles.

"Businesses will begin to look for leaders rather than micro-managers inspiring from a distance rather than giving hands-on direction.

"There are some clear skills around this that can be taught, but managers have to first accept that much of what they've learnt in the first stages of their careers will evolve as the shape of the workplace changes," he added.