How do you manage people working from home?

If you have ben used to managing people through regular face-to-face contact with them what do you do when they are working from home and you never see them? How will you know they are putting the hours in, following all the proper procedures, hitting deadlines and achieving good quality standards?

One way is to install monitoring apps on employee’s equipment. There are apps that will allow you to ‘look over their shoulder’ and see what is on the screen and that will count every keystroke. The apps will give all kinds of histograms and charts to summarise time spent on screen, productivity, errors, websites visited and so on. There are reports that more and more companies are installing these apps.

But this route to employee management is beset with dangers. It can be very invasive of privacy, in this case the privacy of other people’s homes. You might be capturing an employee’s computer use when they are not actually working. You might also, inadvertently be capturing information about other members of the family.  You might be storing information that would put you in breach of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). At the very least, the monitoring procedures that are in place must be transparent to everybody being monitored. Another problem is that procedures that attempt tight control invite people to ‘game’ the system, to look for ways of keeping the scores high by artificial means and find workarounds to fool the system. And there is no end to the ingenuity people display when they want to preserve some level of control over their existence.

Before rushing to computer solutions to manage remote workers it is important to consider other approaches. There may be an opportunity to work towards a culture of trust: one in which, for example, each employee has targets to meet and they are entrusted to find their own ways of achieving those targets. Management of this kind is known to help employees feel more a trusted member of the team and less like a dispensable cog in a machine.

Whatever new system of management emerges, it will be best created by consulting with staff and working iteratively towards procedures that enable effective management and engender good employee well being.

Professor Ken Eason