Not since 1764 and the invention of Hargreaves Spinning Jenny, has there been a more important tool for home working than a PC connected to the internet. As more and more companies elect to encourage a proportion of their staff to work from home, the question of management and motivation becomes evermore important. With the Spinning Jenny it was quite simple, the company delivered the machine to the home worker and each week raw material was delivered and the spun product was collected. This simple machine was one of the fundamental enablers of the rapid growth of the British economy in the 18th. Century. (Look above the door at the Bank of England and you will find that the symbol carved in stone is that of a sheep and not a bar of gold as might be expected).
This week I witnessed the dramatic proof of how complex managing and motivating PC based home workers can be. If the home worker has a measurable job, such as, typing handwritten addresses into an online database, then there is no major worry – especially if they are paid by the number of addresses completed. On the other hand, if their work is more complex or involves a variety of actions that are hard to measure – then the trouble begins.
The case that was brought to my attention was of a young professional woman who was offered a part-time (five hours per day) job working from home. The job was well paid and involved carrying out research and writing up findings and preparing white papers and reports. Everything was fine at first but very soon she became depressed because each week she would send off her weekly report and case notes, only to fail to receive any acknowledgement back. The complete lack of ‘management’ meant effectively that she rapidly became de-motivated. Each day she did less and less, until it came to the point that she did almost nothing at all, apart from hanging around at home on the off chance that her boss would call her with a special request.
Now this is an extreme example, and one might say easily fixed – but the interesting point is that you might think that being paid to stay at home to do nothing would be the perfect job (according to most tabloid newspapers it is what millions of people are doing by choice every day). But the reality is far off. In the case of our professional she became so desperate that she resigned and is now looking for a new job.
It is obvious that us humans need a purpose in life, that we need discipline and encouragement to keep us from becoming depressed or going insane. But home working is an exponentially growing phenomenon and the complexities of motivating and managing remote workers demands a complete new set of rules.
For a start, the simple question of trust emerges – how do I know, for example, if my PA (who works from her home) is busy or simply lasing around on the sofa watching daytime TV? How do I know if she is working efficiently or allowing herself to get heavily involved in a minor detail that, in an office, would get detected and set aside very quickly?
Sure you can use Skype and call each other at regular intervals, but the question of trust and self motivation always comes back. There are some pretty neat software tools such as ‘softactivity’ that allow you to monitor the number of mouse movements and key strokes and applications accessed etc. – but what does that tell us?
I am a manager that likes to walk around the office floor everyday, and observe and listen, picking up minor issues, long before they become important. Motivating teams to have fun and to deliver to the maximum without breaking down is one of the secrets of my success.
Now, to put the record straight, I am very satisfied with the work my PA does, but the nature of the working relationship means that we need to speak with one another at least two to three times per day, if not more. However, this means that the usual management ratio of one to six is rather difficult to maintain over a long period of time, especially if the manager has a pile of work to do themselves, which is more often than not the case.
Over time, I am sure many management books and seminars will be written on the subject of motivating remote employees. But until we have adjusted and mastered the art of remote management, the best solution for self employed home workers is in the form of an online task agency such as 'Pajama Nation'. This amazing concept allows the home worker to review each day jobs that need doing and they have to bid to win them. Just like at Amazon and E-bay, suppliers are awarded satisfaction points for the quality of the work delivered. A whole new world of variety is open for those that do not need the physical company of others to motivate them. After all why sit in a traffic jam burning up precious energy and hours of your life, when staying at home can be even more rewarding? Money for nothing it isn’t but I guess it is as close as it can ever be?