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René Van Someren

Effective Operational Leadership when Working From Home

Posted April 18, 2020

See also: René Van Someren's blog.

Now that more people are forced to work from home, it is more noticeable to workers, clients and to all other stakeholders:

Many workers get less work done when working from home than when working at their company office.

On the other hand, there are also workers who are more productive when working from home, where they are less disturbed or interrupted by co-workers and others.

Several factors influence the productivity of From-Home-Workers, or more generally: teleworkers. One major factor – as some of you may have noticed lately – is the weather. Despite lock-downs, self-isolaton and other mobility restrictions, teleworkers’ productivity tends to drop as it gets sunnier. Many teleworkers’ work-related E-mail and Internet traffic flatlines on sunny days. Some try to get some work done as yet, later in the evening. Others do not get inspired to work at all until the weather turns bad.

This may lead some leaders to despair, but there is more to it than work ethics. Let me remind you of my (prescriptive) definition of an organisation:

An organisation is an ensemble of human beings, tools and procedures, directed towards achieving commensurable goals.

From this we can take that multiple aspects can determine the effectiveness of working from home. What I have been telling students and clients for several years still applies, namely, for teleworking to be effective, the following conditions must be met:
  • The work must be suitable for teleworking;

  • Teleworkers’ personal circumstances must be suitable for teleworking;

  • The organisational circumstances must be suitable for teleworking;

  • Teleworkers must have the appropriate knowledge, skills and attitude to carry out their work from home;

  • Operational leaders must have the appropriate knowledge, skills and attitude to supervise, support and encourage teleworkers.

Suitable work: Not all work can be done from home. This seems quite obvious when the object of work is at a different location such as for road workers or nurses; when required facilities are at a different location, such as for radiologists and car mechanics or when the work requires close proximity to co-workers, such as for concert musicians. Less obvious characteristics rendering certain tasks unsuitable for teleworking (under given conditions) may affect organisations’ effectiveness more because people may try to perform those tasks from home, not realising – or refusing to admit – that the pertaining work does not lend itself for doing so (under the given circumstances).

Teleworkers’ circumstances: Loud neighbours, yapping dogs, noisy passers-by and screaming children can be equally distractive as the sweetest children, pets, neighbours, relatives or spouse asking for your attention. Many other aspects, such as lack of a suitable workspace or tools, may also render circumstances unsuitable for working from home.

Organisational circumstances: Lack of (suitable) technical means or organisational processes may interfere with the ability to work from home, or even obstruct this all together. Some tasks may require certain security measures or procedures, certain data access, information exchange, on the spot decision making or other ways of communication with fellow organisation members, clients, suppliers, and so on that make those tasks less suitable – or even unsuitable – to perform from home.

In some cases, suitable technical means may exist that would allow the work to be done from home, but the investments required and the total costs of ownership may render deployment of such means ineffective. Costs of using and owning certain technical means are not only financial, or even tangible, but may also include aspects such as privacy and security issues (e.g.: even free software is hardly ever truly free).

Teleworkers’ aptitude and attitude: To work from home effectively and efficiently, workers need sufficient relevant knowledge and skills in working from home and in utilising available, relevant technical means. They also need the self discipline and professionalism demanded by teleworking. Those who turn on loud music or the TV and those with their social media devices on-line, within reach or within hearing distance, do not create a professional environment that would allow them to work effectively. Those who need more support or encouragement from their supervisor should actively ask for this, despite the physical distance between them and their operational leaders.

Operational leadership: What goes for teleworkers, also applies to their operational leaders. They also need sufficient relevant knowledge and skills. Often, supervisors lose sight of their workers when they work from home. Consequently, they no longer supervise or support those workers. However, many workers need at least the same amount of supervision, support and encouragement when working from home as they tend to get when working at the company office. Depending on the nature of the work, operational leaders could actively help their workers start and end each working day and look in on them in between.

  • Helping workers start each working day allows leaders to make certain that the workers know what will be expected from them that day and to verify that each worker has all he or she needs to perform those tasks well. It also helps to actually put them to work.

  • Looking in on workers during their working day helps to verify that all is still going well and to foster workers’ connectedness to the organisation. It also allows workers to ask for information or support that they may not have asked otherwise, considering it too trivial to initiate contact with their supervisor for.

  • Helping workers end each working day allows evaluation of the day’s events, which may serve as lessons for the future. It also helps prevent workers from overexerting themselves and to stop working for that day.
When working from home is inefficient and ineffective organisations suffer and pay the price. However, provided that it is done well and all relevant conditions are met, working from home can add much value to organisations. It may even help organisations bounce back quickly from the impact of the Corona-crisis, and perhaps perform even better than they did before.

Parts of this article are taken from:

Dr. René Van Someren’s personal website is:
For questions or comments, feel free to contact him.

Telephone: +31 (0)6 3300 4094      E-mail: