By Lisa Whitten, Claims Manager, Carolinas Region, Brentwood Services Administrators
I started working from home in 1999, before working from home was cool. “Telecommuting” was rather unusual in the 1990s and early 21st century. My children were babies and my husband traveled all week. I worked on special projects for a TPA/MGA at night after my babies were in bed. I quickly learned the discipline required to work from home (WFH). The 15 years I spent working from home in various non-managerial roles helped me when I started managing a staff of WFH employees.
Based on my experience, I knew WFH was not for everyone. It requires a special discipline and ability to focus on work when there are so many distractions around the house. WFH requires a certain professional maturity and sense of responsibility that not everyone has.
Managers of WFH employees have extra responsibilities. Managers must ensure the work product remains excellent and client service is superb. The ability to control these service points starts with the hiring process. Hiring WFH employees can be a challenge. WFH candidates are ones that have 5+ years of experience in their field and require minimal direct supervision. The ideal candidate would have a proven record of working from home.
Under normal circumstances, WFH managers have the hiring and supervision process down to a science, but the recent Covid 19 pandemic presented new challenges. Companies quickly sent all “non-essential” workers to work from home with little transition. Some states even mandated this work form home push. In some cases, employees who normally would not have been considered WFH candidates went home to work with no more than 24 hours’ notice. Whether these employees will continue to WFH after the Covid 19 isolation remains to be seen and will likely be on a case-by-case basis.
The following are tips for managing WFH employees:
Suggest a separate workspace. This helps minimize distractions but also discourages WFH employees from over working after hours.
Set expectations. WFH employees should know what is expected in terms of standards and quality of work, just as any employee should.
Don’t micro-manage. Some managers tend to over-manage when they can’t see their employees.
Allow freedom as long as the job gets done. Let’s face it, WFH employees don’t sit at their desks for eight hours straight. They may throw in a load of laundry or start dinner or even shower at 11AM. But it has been my experience that they are working at night and on weekends when others are not. WFH employees don’t waste commute time and often start their days earlier and finish later. WFH employees take fewer sick days, increasing production. If the client is cared for and the work product is top notch, freedom is fine.
Have frequent contact. WFH employees can isolate to their own “islands”. It is important to call them frequently just to check in and to establish loyalty to you as the manager. Employees who are loyal to their managers have more longevity.
Give feedback. Because managers don’t interact with WFH employees daily, it is important to give feedback on the work product. There should be no surprises at review time. Encouragement is just as important as pointing out areas needing improvement.
Hold periodic “team” meetings. WFH employees often have less loyalty to the team they work on. In some cases, they have never met or spent time with their team members. Team meetings are important.
Be empathetic to family situations. A sick child, taking a pet to the vet, delivering a meal to a sick relative—these are all situations WFH employees may find themselves with. This is especially applicable during the Covid 19 isolation with schools and day cares closed.
More companies may see that WFH fits their business model from the trial run Covid 19 forced on them. Companies could save money on office space rental. In addition, production may increase due to morale and the fact that WFH employees do not have the commute. Learning to effectively manage telecommuters will become more important as WFH becomes more prevalent.