Saturday, December 29, 2007


A week ago, in the middle of the week, I went on vacation with my husband to a ski-school. Do not misunderstand me; I did not travel to Switzerland or some other pastoral place you may imagine, just to a big hall, with some big simulators, near Tel Aviv, in Hertzelia, Israel. To those interested in the idea, this is probably a useful way to exercise ski skills for those who are not skiers, leaving the trip to ski sites enjoyable as possible. However, this is not the topic I wish to share today on my post. I will only add, before continuing, that I am not big sport and when I tried once to ski (really, in Switzerland), it was not as easy I would wish. Well, this time I found myself, twenty minutes from the beginning of the lesson, holding the trainer with both my hands, begging her not to let go. This young woman was someone that half an hour before I did not even know her name. And here I find myself putting my faith in her, and trusting her more than I trust people whom I know months and years.
Trust. Trust is something that usually is built up after a long period; after some acquaintance. It is true that in extreme cases (and fear) this period may be shortened. This is a usual technique performed in various workshops. However, we are speaking about a process. A process in which, step by step, we open to others and enable them reach us, starting the trust.
Trust is a significant component helping the knowledge workers performing their job. All Knowledge Management philosophers have spoke on trust and its influence on our readiness to share knowledge. I have written, in one of the first posts, on the importance of knowledge sharing to the success of the job of knowledge workers. Trust, of course, is an important component aiding the performance of all workers, also those who stand in the manufacturing line and feed in materials. Nevertheless, the significance of trust grows in the case of knowledge workers. For them, the motivation and the integration with other employees are key factors for success.
As we understand building trust, or more precisely nurturing it, is not that simple. We are speaking about a composed process, very sensitive one, hard to build, but too easy to destroy. The process turns even more complicated as the manager has to nurture three separate zones of trust, to do with the knowledge workers they are in charge of.
First, a trust feeling has to be built so that employees believe and trust the manager and the organization. Nurturing values as authentication, honesty and organizational transparency can be practical ways to built up trust. Bringing to minimum, the times in which we speak and act differently, being honest not only to employees but also to customers and competitors, aid and may bring the employee to trust the manager and the organization. I believe that the best way to bring employees to trust me is to trust them.
However, trust should not only be aimed to the manager and organization. The manager has to nurture an atmosphere of trust between the employees. Tools that can help here are diverse: Encouraging shared activities after work hours, or activities not related to the job (trips, eating together, etc.); building cellular billing programs so that conversations between employees do not cost them. Informing employees when their colleagues are missing from work, wherever possible, bringing them to take an interest one in another; reminding birthdays; publicity of professional successes; running events with families etc. The trust is built in enlarging circles, where the most important circles are the close one, those where frequent interfaces take place. It must be noted, that this is the easiest circle of trust to nurture as people hold face-to-face meetings.
The last zone of trust is with the customers. As has already been written above, when elaborating on trust toward managers, reciprocity is critical. In order to have a customer trust us, I should be authentic and honest with him or her. To really want their benefit. To trust them. There is no place here for fakes. If I do not dignify the customer, if I do not open to him or her personally, if I do not treat them as a person and not only as a professional, it will be hard to buy in their trust. Unless, of course, I find a way to bring them to some extreme situation, as the ski story in the beginning of this post. This strategy is not recommended!
The journey to trust is long, but the results are very satisfactory. The effort is worthwhile! Not only for the knowledge worker. For me.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Working from home

Working from home. This is a capability born thanks to technology, but not less, thanks to many of us being knowledge workers. Production workers, having all wonderful technologies of Internet, laptops, Emails and cellular telephones will never be able to work from home. Also some knowledge workers cannot work at all, or at least, part of the time, from work. Appointments with customers, meetings in the office are still part of the tasks, better performed out of home. Yet, it is obvious, that we have advanced regarding to ten years ago or more.
I’ll state in advance, that I’m not speaking about full time working from home. This is possible sometimes, it is more common in some places in the world, but this is not the subject of this post. Here I write about working out, in the office and/or with customers, but combining working from home from time to time.

Why to enable working from home?
For many reasons. First of all, it saves the worker or the organization travel costs. But more important than that, time is saved. For most of us, that do not live near to work, time saved can sum to two or three hours. Indeed, very significant regarding our free non-sleeping hours. We live in an era where life and work are mixed and almost blended. We receive private calls on work time. We get and send SMS’s during meeting, trying to see what’s happening back at home, or why the Pizza did not arrive on time. At home, we continue to receive calls from work, and mainly, to write and receive Emails, many times, until the late hours of night. Those of you who dream to cut these relations and imitate the way our parents used to work, will probably be disappointed. Work-life-balance experts say that the levels could lower; It is recommended to turn off the phone and computer when having guests, going to parties or to the movies. But true reverse is probably impossible. What can be done, is to compensate; to enable technology that brought all these, to work in our favor as well: To encourage our employees to work in more flexible hours, so they can take the kids out from the kindergarten or school and continue working later out; to enable our employees to arrive a bit later, after rush time and start the first hour from home; to enable them to work, one day a week, from home.
Working from home gives us much more than time savings. The organization benefits, in some level, by operational savings. In most cases work is more effective, comparing to the same work done in the office. But the main benefit is in the change of spirit and the good feeling for the employee. I personally, from time to time, take a day off, and work from home. When I see that the day I planned is near, and was not yet cancelled by some urgent meeting added in the last moment, I admit to feel happy. On regular days I wear suits to the office. On days I work at home, I always wear jeans; deliberately. It is part of the making the right atmosphere. For some employees, the ability to work at home enables them to accomplish arrangements and fixing at home without taking a vacation day.

When is work from hope applicable?
The first condition, of course, for working from home, is that there is a back office work that can be performed at home with no specific software unreachable from home, no tight work with colleagues or meetings everyday with customers. It is not wise to work at home and speak all day on phone with the office or the customer.
Not less important, is the ability of the employee to be responsible to work from home. Not to stay in pyjamas; not to peek on TV; not to go in and out of the kitchen 20 times a day; to know to say no to the children who do not understand how is it that Mom or Dad are working and unavailable, even though they are home.
Knowledge workers are highly independent employees. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that they will have work to be done at work. Therefore, it will also be assumed that they have the responsibility required for working from home.

What is the manager’s job?
The manager should not enable, automatically, working from home, to all employees, in all conditions. The manager has first to clarify the responsibility required and check if each employee indeed can work from home, effectively.
The manager’s responsibility (or this can be defined organizationally) is to decide how frequent to enable work from home (once a week, once in two weeks, or once a month).
The manager’s job is to supervise the work from home and see that the employee does not postpone important tasks, just to be at home, and to see that the employee indeed knows how to work from home effectively.

By enabling working from home, we tell our employees, in one more way: We trust you!

Working from home is beneficial for the employee, and not less, for the organizations.

Your opinions are welcomed.