In a recent J. D. Power webinar regarding the 10 Key Strategies in the New Work At Home Service Environment, we examined the important role that supervisors play in an effective work-at-home (WAH) model. In fact, supervisors really are the key to success, even more so than they are with an on-premise team. This is mainly because when managing a WAH team the supervisor becomes the critical link between the agents and the company. Supervisors seem to gravitate to one of three approaches as they learn to work with their WAH teams. They either stay the same, increase control, or become more like a “life coach.”
Approach 1: Stay the Same
When supervisors attempt to manage a WAH team as they do an on-premise team (that is, they stay the same) it is because they believe that there is fundamentally no difference between the two and that whatever routine and communication methods that worked on-premise will work with the WAH team. The biggest difference supervisors in this category fail to recognize is that when managing on-premise they communicated quite a bit just by walking around, seeing people, and answering questions, sometimes even before they were asked. Through this process, they developed a certain feel for their teams. The ability to manage-by-line-of-sight, or “manage by walking around,” is more difficult to accomplish. By not making a clear change in management style, supervisors risk losing the engagement of their agents.
Approach 2: Increase Control
Other supervisors recognize that things have indeed changed regarding managing a WAH team. However, the change is foreign to them and translates into an uncomfortable feeling. This leads to a sense that they are losing control, followed by a natural reaction to increase micromanagement of the team. They impose stringent monitoring and stern rules to keep people from wandering too far from performance standards. This inevitably results in team members feeling stressed and resentful, further leading to disengagement.
Approach 3: Life Coach
The most successful approach for managing WAH teams is to adopt a role more like a “life coach.” Just as the term suggests, supervisors in this category transcend notions of command and control and move toward a focus on individual team members and their unique needs. These supervisors intuitively understand that they are there to support team members, to reduce their “grind” while helping them adapt to their WAH lifestyle. Each team member has unique challenges and “life coach” supervisors develop a new way of sensing when these challenges are becoming roadblocks. They are experts at providing authentic encouragement. The reward for becoming the “life coach” is that team members (and supervisors themselves) become self-managing and self-correcting, which leads to higher levels of meaningful work.