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Home > News > August 2007 > 10 August 2007

Poor management blocking benefits of remote working, says survey

Poor management is blocking the UK's path to productivity, according to a new report commissioned by City & Guilds and the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM).

The 'Tomorrow's Leaders' study, undertaken by Henley Management College, says that managers are struggling to reinvent their working patterns to get the best from a growing army of remote workers.

According to the findings, remote working is on the rise - 73% of managers say flexible working is common in their organisation, and 37% of all managers now look after teams who are either entirely or predominantly based away from the office.

Although the majority of managers are working with teams that include remote workers, the survey found that nearly half (44%) of managers say they are unprepared for the supervision of remote teams, and only 25% had received any training on how to manage such a team.

The survey reports that while nearly 75% of managers believe remote workers are more productive, and 90% say they trust their remote employees, a third also confess to wanting to monitor their employees closely - just to make sure.

Chris Humphries, director general of City & Guilds, said: "A quiet revolution is taking place in offices across the UK. With the introduction of flexible working legislation, a growing awareness of the environmental impacts of travel, and a realisation among the business community of the cost benefits of flexible working, employment away from the office has never been so popular. However, as City & Guilds and ILM have demonstrated, managers are finding it less comfortable to lead and motivate flexible teams.

"Our research shows that bosses are highly sympathetic to the notion of flexible working, but in practice find it difficult to break the mind set of 'presenteeism'. The UK's professional culture is still built on long hours if you're visible, you're accountable. In reality, this means we reward people who take a long time to get the job done, rather than those who do it most effectively."

Kim Parish, Chief Executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management added: "Our experience at ILM shows how much we need to keep the training of our managers up to date. Whilst technology is allowing fundamental changes to working patterns, the behaviour of managers and team members lags behind.

"Managers need a new set of skills and attitudes to optimise the benefits of all forms of flexible working including remote working. This is just one of the areas where modern management and leadership qualifications, like those of ILM, can improve the performance of managers and organisations."

The survey highlighted particular management skills gaps around communication skills and team bonding, as well as appropriate use of emerging technologies. One third of the managers participating in the study said that they needed to improve the way they communicated with their teams.

In addition, while 62% of managers say their IT systems support remote working, half of respondents believe they are not exploiting the networking technology to the full. Under 20% use audio conferencing and instant messaging, and only 10% use video conferencing.

Peter Thomson, director of the Future Work Forum Henley Management College, said: "Today's managers are very aware of the commercial and competitor advantages associated with more flexible employers, however they are struggling to turn theory into practice and clearly need support to adapt their supervision styles.

"Businesses will begin to look for leaders rather than micro-managers inspiring from a distance rather than giving hands-on direction. There are some clear skills around this that can be taught, but managers have to first accept that much of what they've learnt in the first stages of their careers will evolve as the shape of the workplace changes."

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City & Guilds

The Institute of Leadership & Management

Henley Management College

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