Fixer: How can I engage home workers?

Managing employees who work outside the office can be difficult

I am struggling to motivate colleagues who work from home. It feels at times like issues such as childcare take precedence over client priorities. What can I do?

Working from home is a fact of modern life, and I have a number of clients whose entire business models are based around employees never being in the office, or who don’t even have a physical office. 

You can definitely make this work, but the key is to use the same technology that enables home working to also make it an engaging and rewarding experience for all parties.

Remote employees who aren’t managed properly quickly fall out of the loop and feel they aren’t really part of the business. But there are everyday tools you can use to prevent this; messaging software like Slack, MS Teams and Google Hangouts, for example, can help people communicate and form bonds across boundaries. 

You can bring people together regularly for virtual lunches, where they stop work to talk, no matter where they are. I have a client who sets challenges (for example, competitions to see who takes the most steps, with prizes at the end of the month) and ensures remote workers are front and centre. They need to have a profile in the business, and praise for their performance needs to be deliberately over-emphasised.

You say that childcare is an issue, but this could well just be a perception. People who work from home can be incredibly productive – they tend to stick to their tasks without distractions, and even if they are fitting work around daily life, you can’t be sure they aren’t working early mornings or late nights to compensate. In my experience, they will be. 

As long as you are focused on outputs, the school run shouldn’t matter; tools like Trello can give you an oversight of how project work is progressing if you are really worried about this, but they must be introduced for everyone rather than just home workers.

If this constituency of employees is distracted or disengaged, it’s often because of the way they are being managed, or how their effort is being recognised. I’d focus on those areas first – I suspect the answers will be more obvious than you think.