A man and a woman at a lab bench

Change focus

Managing people by monitoring the hours that they put in at work, or ‘presenteeism’, elevates only one aspect of their inputs. Changing your focus to the output of work means that everyone’s emphasis moves to whether the required work is completed and how effective that work is rather than the duration and location of work activities. This provides the basis for adjusting all the necessary inputs (resources, skills, time, effort, processes, collaboration) in order to improve productivity and quality.


This pandemic has brought out the best in many people. Research shows that when people feel trusted and are given the freedom to get the job done in the way they think is best, within clear boundaries, they respond positively and are often more productive. Demonstrating that you trust staff may help you to form a new more productive working relationship to take into the future workplace. Unless your metrics/measures show otherwise, trust that people are working hard to complete the tasks you give them.


The key to working well with remote staff is to be very clear and specific with all expectations and to have a clear and shared understanding amongst the team of what they need to contribute to achieve the targeted results. This starts with recruiting well and having defined job descriptions so that everyone understands what they are there to do. If you have not yet established expectations, take a pause to think about this now. Let your team know you are doing this and discuss it with them to get their input at team and 1-2-1 meetings. Working in a remote team is not the same as having "flexible hours" as the time your team members spend on a task is irrelevant; only their results matter. This approach works particularly well with team members who need to deliver an easily measurable, standardized piece of work to a deadline and an agreed quality. It allows people to focus on one project or task at a time, and it gives them freedom to complete their work as they see fit.


All the usual factors required to build effective teams are relevant when managing virtual teams. You need to ensure that you are able to communicate their progress toward an outcome well using an established method such as regular 1-2-1s and as a manager, you need to give good quality feedback. It is essential that all team members have the resources they require to do their work effectively, including training. You should also make it a point to monitor and make sure team members are not working too many hours which can lead to negative impacts on their wellbeing/burn out.


Setting clear, consistent, meaningful and measurable goals for your people, and monitoring their performance is essential. You should discuss goals with your team individually, and make sure they agree that each one is relevant and fair. Then, hold people accountable for delivery of these goals – otherwise, this whole approach to team management falls apart. This means that team members are clear about what they need to achieve, and how this contributes to the department, Faculty and College strategy/objectives. People need to understand what you expect of them and what they're responsible for, so they know what they need to achieve. You need to ensure that deadlines are realistic, but also that people don't exaggerate how long a piece of work/project should take. Monitor performance, including quality with the objective being high quality work (not rushed or sub-standard). Until well established, you may need to remind everyone that its results and not presence that matters.


This management approach is not suitable in all work situations, especially with new or inexperienced teams, unpredictable projects, or roles that require people to be available during specified hours at a particular location (e.g. service providers). It may also be difficult for team members to collaborate and communicate with their colleagues who do not work consistent hours which will be especially challenging for new/inexperienced colleagues who need to learn from those with more experience. Factor this into planning for induction and training programmes to ensure that the appropriate support is available.

ICT have provided more information on this topic within their Smart Working Toolkit.