Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

How to manage people working from home or remotely

I read an interesting article the other day where the author had been asked for an HR Policy on working from home. She said you didn’t need one – you can just use common sense and focus on managing for results, rather than inputs. She had some interesting points but just like many articles that raise issues, she didn’t talk about a solution.

I’ve just finished the final re-write and edit for Safety Bites – so it’s off now for printing and release on 1 February 2017 (quite exciting!) and one of the things I include is how to actually manage working from home.

After the earthquakes and knowing many companies are asking people to work from home – I thought it might be useful to share an excerpt if you’re a people manager or HR or H&S person.

So here is an excerpt from Safety Bites.


Managing people working from home or remotely

From training thousands of managers through the Management Bites programme, I know that many, many managers have concerns and issues with their teams working from home or working remotely. Three of the biggest challenges they have are:

  1. Not knowing what the person is doing while they are working from home or remotely and it being too difficult to manage.
  2. It causing conflict with the rest of the team who now also want to work from home/remotely or who think the person is slacking off and not pulling their weight.
  3. That working from home isn’t productive and isn’t valued, and it’s better for people to be in the office.

Point 3: I’d like to address the last point first. Some managers think that working from home isn’t productive – you can only get things done in an office. And that they never worked from home during their career, so they can’t see any value in it.

We know that many surveys, on younger employees especially, have shown that they do value flexible working which may include working from home (one survey found 78% of people would turn down a job if there was no flexibility).

We also now know that coming into an office every day for 8 hours doesn’t make people more productive. In fact many people stretch out what they do, or are interrupted so many times they only get about 4 – 5 hours productive work time. Working from home or another location actually means people can work when they are productive. This may not be 9 – 5pm. Some people have peak working periods in the evening and so will do some work then. In fact they may even work more than 8 hours as they are also thinking about work while they do the dishes.

So there are very good reasons to allow it as it valued and it is productive!

This isn’t the case for all types of work of course – for some things you have to be in the office or workplace. But for work where you’re thinking and doing things that require peace and quiet – then working from home can be far more productive than an open plan office and set hours.


Point 1: When someone is working from home or remotely – you can’t see what the person is doing so how do you know they’re working? You also don’t know whether they are working safely. So here’s what I’ve seen work from trying this out at Elephant, and from talking to managers who have found a way to manage.

Instead of trying to manage inputs (numbers of hours that the person works), instead look at outputs. If you focus on what the person needs to achieve that week, and monitor that, then it doesn’t matter where they are actually working from! This all sounds lovely and easy, but it’s not. Here’s how you can make it work.

  • Firstly ask them to write out a risk assessment of their work space at home – any hazards that could occur and how they are going to try and eliminate or minimise these. Is there anything that the company needs to do to help with their work place at home being safe? Otherwise they need to sign off that they have made it safe and will work safely.
  • Ask each of your team at the start of the week to send you a quick email about what key things they will get completed this week. Or have a stand up meeting on Monday morning and talk through it and write it up on a whiteboard or in your notebook. There are also online tools you could use.
  • Have a shared calendar so that you know who in the team is going to working where during the week.
  • Ask for a check in at the start of each morning – this could be a quick email they send to tell what they’ve completed, or just if they are on track or if they are getting behind or having an issue. You need to be careful not to micro-manage as many people find that really disengaging – but if you explain that with them working remotely or from home, you would appreciate an update so you are comfortable they are on top of their work. Then if they are having issues, you can discuss a solution.

REAL STORY: At Elephant, our Conference Manager/EA worked part time house. She would come into the office one afternoon a week when she knew I’d be there, and worked the rest of her hours from home. She would update me at the start of the week on what she was working on and what she would achieve during the week (e.g. finalising conference venue X, processing all end of month invoicing, sending packs to all attendees and booking travel). I would have a rough idea of how much time each of these would take so would feel quite comfortable with her working from home. She would be in touch by email or phone if she had questions. I would also update her on what I was working on that week and we used to have a shared calendar of where everyone in the team was.


Point 2: The other issue is the rest of the team feeling like the person working from home is slacking off, or also wanting to work from home too.

If you introduce them also giving you an update at the start of the week of what they are working on and what they want to achieve that week – then they may well start to see that it’s about outputs not inputs. If they do want to request flexible hours and working from home – then under the Employment Relations Act, they actually need to make a business case for how this would work. It’s not just a question of saying ‘I want to work from home’. Ask them to complete the form outlining what days or hours they want flexibility with and how they will make this work. You can then either approve this, try it out for a period of time (.e.g a month or two) or turn down the request. If you don’t know much about Flexible Working there is more in Management Bites, or you can check out the MBIE website.

At the end of the week why not send out an email to praise people in your team who achieved what they set out to that week – and then everyone can see the person who is working from home has achieved their work outputs.

Is there anything you’re going to change about how you manage people working from home or working remotely? If you’re in HR or H&S then are there any changes to policies or procedures that you’re going to recommend?


This was an excerpt from Safety Bites: the bite sized guide to keeping people safe at work. Written by Angela Atkins and due out on 1 February 2017. For more information just visit

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2016 by in human resources, Leadership and tagged , , , , .
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