How to manage home workers
The nature of social work has not made home working an obvious
option. But, writes Nathalie Towner, a few councils are now
offering it to their staff. Home working is ultimately just a
different working style and should have no effect on the output of
the team but it does have its challenges. Whole processes need to
be rethought and managers need to adapt their style, to deal with
the different demands of overseeing from a distance.
1 Case study: Cheshire Council
Natalie Brill is manager for central Crewe’s older people
team at Cheshire Council and nearly all her staff are home-based.
“Social work is one of the most difficult jobs to do from
home, so we began with a pilot project,” she explains.
“To start with it terrified me as I had visions of an empty
office but I do in fact get to see people regularly.” The
process is now fully established and the team is made up of nine
home workers, while Brill and the admin team are office based.
“One of the things that came out of the pilot is that if you
are working for a community based team you need to live close to
your patch,” she advises.
2 A home office
The home environment must be suitable for work and the individual
must have access to all the necessary equipment. “All the
social workers are provided with a computer, printer, desk, chair
and a business phone line, as well as a lockable cabinet to store
confidential papers,” says Brill. “Every 12 months I go
to their home and go through a home-based risk assessment.” A
key factor is that they have space to take confidential calls.
It’s essential to get together on a regular basis. “You
must agree in advance on objectives and the person must be
contactable throughout the day,” says Rebecca Clake, adviser
to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. The Crewe
older people team have a weekly meeting where everyone comes into
the office for an hour and they will also have a regular day in the
office for filing and to support admin staff. Brill adds that all
the home workers have to be competent in IT. “Email is a huge
source of communication,” she says. “I will forward
certain messages to all the team instead of waiting for the next
4 Contact with the office
At the beginning of the week, each member of Brill’s team
fills out a complete work programme, so she always knows where they
are. At the end of working day staff must contact the office. Home
workers will have supervision like any other social worker but
Brill says that she does have to give the staff a lot more support
because she is the pivotal person in the office. “We have
phone contact every day and staff will always call if they need to
discuss anything,” she says.
5 Peace and quiet
Home working isn’t for everyone and some members of staff
will feel isolated or daunted by how well organised you need to be.
For most though there is no turning back. “It is a challenge
to manage staff performance but people love working from home and
tend to work better as they are not being constantly
interrupted,” says Brill. “They have peace and quiet to
work without the phones ringing and increased flexibility to manage