Clement May Blogs

Working remotely – managing the managers

Tired of your 3 hour commute? Want to work for a global corporation but can’t get the visa to relocate? Want to take control of your work-life balance and see your family during daylight hours? There are many reasons to consider working remotely and more and more large companies are investing in an international workforce based from their home-offices or from satellite bases. For some it is a work-life revolution and for some it can result in additional stress and frustration. These are some questions you should ask when considering whether a remote role is suitable for you and for the task you’re being employed for.

Do you need hands on management?

Unfortunately some (poor) managers tend to forget about their remote workers. The ever-present issues of hands-off versus hands-on management are often amplified for the remote worker. Remote workers can be left to their own devices and find themselves crying out for management input. Varying time zones and sometimes even common languages can compound a lack of communication with remote workers. It’s important therefore to question the hirer about management structure and the processes in place to ensure you’re not waking up at 4 in the morning hoping to have a quick chat with your line manager.

Then there is the horror of being micromanaged by your remote boss. There is insecurity present in any remote relationship. If your manager can’t see you, how do they know you’re not watching TV when you should be working. Remote roles should always have a clear reporting process, which ensures your boss knows how things are progressing whilst not burdening you with administrative hoops to jump through. None of us want hourly or even daily demands for updates!

Task-based roles

Often management of remote workers translates into a task-based (rather than hours-based) work schedule. The problem here lies in the approximation of task duration. We’ve all been in the situation where a someone assumes writing a bit of code, or a report takes as long as it takes to tap the keys. Equally some tasks can run so smoothly that an estimated week comes in only a day or two. The trick is to find the balance. If your boss always underestimates, you need to set them straight and provide the evidence – using task timer software is a good way of providing a break down of your role. If you are repeatedly finishing your task schedule by Thursday you need to be careful. Your colleague may well be completing 20% more work than you in a week and eventually management will question your commitment. An honest, open relationship is often difficult when working remotely but it is also essential for building that all-important trust.

Communication is key

When you work in an office you have colleagues. You can get a sense of how the business works, values and norms from the people around you. Your working practices may adapt to suit the company you work for and an organic trust emerges between you, your managers and your colleagues. You know the office politics and you come to understand the hidden power structures. As a remote worker this may be totally alien to you. When your work is praised by your manager but criticised by the head of a different department how are you to know whether it is due to the quality of your work or a rivalry between managers? Remote working can be a bit of an insecure experience, especially when things don’t go to plan. To tackle this you need to be assertive. If you’ve received criticism you need to know exactly why. If you work in an office you may be aware that your boss is under a lot of pressure from the board or is even having personal difficulties and therefore the abrupt email should be taken with a pinch of salt. Your colleagues may share their similar experiences and soon you’ve moved on. As a remote worker the experience can be quite different, isolating and painful. Don’t assume that your boss is having a hissy fit but equally don’t assume that it’s all your fault. If you thought you’d done a good job you need to bite the bullet, be assertive and ask the right questions. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t ask for feedback or further explanation.

And finally…

  • Ask about reporting structures as early as possible

  • Identify areas where communication may break down and discuss them with the hirer / managers

  • Analyse your own strengths and weaknesses – does remote working suit your personality?

  • Make a special effort to introduce yourself to colleagues and key personnel in the first week of work and try to maintain conversations

  • Don’t assume your output isn’t being monitored – out of sight isn’t always out of mind

  • Have faith in your own skills, commitment and ability to do a fair day’s work.


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