Whilst reading this article, we ask you to consider: What are some of the implications when working remotely? How can team leaders effectively manage remote employees and performance?
The coronavirus pandemic has changed many different areas of our lives. From the way we study and interact with others to the way we work. There’s no doubt that it has affected most of us personally and professionally, but some aspects of our life will probably never go back to how they used to be. There will be visible changes in the work environment, including the future of flexible working and the rise in demand for technology.
Since the pandemic started, millions of employees have begun working from home, using online tools and platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams for virtual communication. Some people would agree that working from home has brought a better work-life balance, not needing to commute or getting stuck in traffic, while others miss the lack of traditional face-to-face communication and social interactions. During complete lockdown situations, there have been added pressures to working from home such as home schooling and having to care for sick or elderly relatives.
Covid-19 has made employers and employees realize that there can be many ways of making work more efficient. Thus, more companies are planning to adopt the “hybrid” way of working in the future, giving a significant amount of control to employees for managing their work schedule.
Employees are not the only ones who will have to adapt to the new working style. Team leaders will be responsible for creating healthy, efficient work environments and cultures by offering flexibility and allowing staff to balance their work with their lifestyle while ensuring that goals and milestones are met.
It is crucial that team leaders understand and adopt different techniques when working with the home-working aspect of hybrid working. By building a new Covid-19 questionnaire, we focus on the kinds of behaviours that need to be adopted by team leaders to improve the work-from-home experience. Consider this questionnaire a vital health-check for managers/leaders of remote teams. Team leaders and team members will answer the same questions about remote working and any differences in perceptions will be graphically obvious from the resultant report. This will stimulate conversations between team members and their bosses about the things that really matter to each of them. Those conversations present an excellent opportunity for leaders to pay more attention to their listening skills, their empathy levels and build their emotional intelligence.
What are some of the implications when working remotely?
There are a lot of benefits to both employer and employee when workers are deployed remotely. From the employers’ point of view, workers:
- Spend less time travelling and are likely to put that saved time into working
- Spend less money on travel which may benefit employers directly if travel allowances are offered
- Are travelling less which means less environmental pollution
- Tend to be using their own homes and their own equipment (hand-held mobile devices, heating and lighting, broadband connectivity, printers, etc.), which means (potentially) reduced office costs even after allowances are paid. Ultimately this will lead to a requirement for smaller offices with the subsequent savings in overhead
- May be more productive. Although this has not been properly studied, many employers are reporting increases in productivity presumably because workers are making more discretionary effort? Or is it just that there’s less ‘chit chat’ and banter around the coffee machine/printer?
- Are likely to be more loyal, this is not the time for them to be looking for other jobs.
From the employees’ point of view, some of the advantages are:
- Less time is spent travelling (commuting)
- Less money is spent on travelling
- Workers are experiencing less wear and tear, lower stress levels and general reduction in tediousness because of reduced commuting
- By not having to get up so early and arrive home so late, workers are generally happier – they have more of their days back
- Workers are adopting a more relaxed dress code and that has significant benefits in terms of effort, their spend on clothes and general housework duties.
But it’s not all good news. Covid-19 has proved to us that working from home does not suit everyone, and that applies to both employers and employees. Some of the disadvantages of home working are becoming more and more apparent:
- Depending on the personality type and skills that an individual has, it can be more difficult for some employees to adapt to working from home than others
- Employees can often feel guilty, isolated and distracted when working remotely
- One of the most significant issues that employees are facing when working remotely, is the work-life balance. Some individuals struggle to balance work and personal life, ending up working long and unsociable hours. This is especially true of those who have had to home school and/or care for elderly or sick relatives during the complete lockdowns. It is not uncommon to see email traffic during the late night/early hours of the morning
- Homeworkers are also missing the social interactions they took for granted at work, the fun and the spontaneity
- Working all day from home also often leads to getting distracted, difficulties finding motivation and ultimately feeling lonely.
All this can be detrimental to employees’ mental health, let alone productivity, and this a fundamental reason why employees should be encouraged to pay attention to their work schedule and lifestyle.
However, there are ways to make remote working more efficient and comfortable for those who are having difficulties adapting to it. Offering flexibility and splitting time between home and the workplace is the most effective solution. This is the new hybrid model.
Team leaders and managers also play a significant role in building a secure work environment and making employees feel focused and engaged while working remotely. Regular communication is a given, but the quality of that communication needs to be carefully examined. Trust and empathy are vital aspects when managing remotely.
How to effectively manage remote employees and performance
Covid-19 hasn’t given organisations much time to prepare for home-working nor to establish clear remote-work policies. Many team leaders and managers are only now starting to understand some of the factors that make working remotely so demanding for some of the employees.
“We will need more managers from shop floor to the top floor who have emotional intelligence and social skills if we are to manage people more remotely.”
- Cary Cooper: Professor of Organisational Psychology & Health at Manchester University
“Emotional intelligence is a key trait to adopt.”
- Guv Sandhu: Head of Human Resources at Emico Limited
We’re currently building a new Covid-19 questionnaire to discover new, different and significant behaviours that team leaders and managers should adopt when managing remotely.
This is an unprecedented time and set of circumstances that present the opportunity for leaders to manage work more efficiently. Since September 2020, TLC Online has been asking HR and L&D professionals from many different industry sectors across the globe for suggestions of significant behaviours that team leaders should adopt when managing remotely. The quotes we include in this blog have come from that research. We have now added CEOs and C-suite execs to that list.
Naturally, many suggestions have been similar and we have been able to cluster them. Here are some examples of some of the leading suggestions that we have received:
Provide the necessary communication and virtual social interaction:
One vital action to take is to make sure that there is an increase in the amount of communication. Employees often feel unmotivated, lack information and miss the social interactions with colleagues. By staying on top of admin, team leaders will establish consistent social interaction methods for their staff.
“Working remotely and in extreme conditions, our team leaders will need to show effective communication and initiative.”
- Mariella Giancola, Head of Human Resources at British Antarctic Survey
Informal catch-ups, virtual staff events and virtual office parties on Zoom can help establish social interaction and diminish the feeling of isolation and loneliness. By taking part in these meetings, the working relationships will also take a more meaningful form. Just one caveat: know the preferences of each team member in this respect…not all staff want the same amount of interaction.
Some of the main issues for employees working remotely is the life-work balance. By setting expectations and clear assignments followed up by regular, consistent check-ins, managers will create a consistent employee schedule.
“Assess performance via output, rather than the number of hours spent in the office.”
- Satty Kaur: Head of People & Culture Transformation Expertise
By offering flexibility around the working schedule and focusing on results rather than the number of hours worked, employees will benefit from a better balance between work and social life. It will also give employees a better understanding of their responsibilities and will increase autonomy.
Making sure to communicate team progress on a regular, structured basis will also allow remote teams to get a better understanding of what the business needs and perform accordingly. Without playing favourites or embarrassing anybody, share team members’ “win stories” on a regular basis.
Establish 1-1 meetings:
1-1 meetings are more important than ever, especially now that remote working tends to be the new normal. It’s vital to schedule 1-1 meetings with your staff to offer personal and professional support. However, the quality and content of these meetings needs careful preparation. As stated earlier, to maximise the benefit of these meetings for both parties, the team leader needs to understand and apply high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence. Do your team members genuinely understand the true meaning of these words, let alone practise the skills?
Run well, these meetings will allow employees to ask the questions they may not feel comfortable asking on group calls. These 1-1 meetings will build a better understanding of the employee’s needs and feelings as well.
“(Cultivate the) ability to spend 1-1 time with team members. That way, they would see for themselves how their team are coping with remote working and give reassurances, as well as monitor their wellbeing.”
– Steve Fairlie: Human Resources Director
1-1 meetings are also essential for checking on mental health issues. As more people have experienced working from home, there has also been an increase in negative feelings. Employees often feel guilt, anxiety and fears related to the imbalance between work and their daily routines. By setting up 1-1 meetings, managers can show emotional support for their staff: ensuring they feel supported is a new and vital management skill. To find out more about meaningful 1-1 meetings and management touchpoints through 360 assessment tools, read our previous blog post here.
Team leaders will have to make sure that they are actively listening to their staff and not just ticking off their to-do list after having a meeting. If trust is already established, it should be easy to ask them how are they responding to the current situation (not just home working but their work objectives and their professional relationships with you, with their colleagues and customers)? How are they really, actually, feeling about the current situation (what scares them, what motivates them, what pisses them off)? Can you help them choose better responses? What difference would it make to them to choose better responses? What is the one thing they can do right now that will make a positive shift? What is the one thing you can do right now to make a positive shift?
By the way – just an aside – encourage team leaders to ask themselves these questions. Checking in with themselves on a regular basis is equally important. Leaders of these team leaders should be doing it too.
I mentioned trust above…another vital aspect to consider when working remotely is to make sure that your employee trusts you. What builds trust?
Check out this powerful metaphor created by Dr Stephen Covey in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. The metaphor is known as the Emotional Bank Account. We all know how our regular bank account works. We make deposits, save up money, and when we need that money later, we withdraw it. An emotional bank account is an account of trust instead of money. It’s an account based on how much in relationship you feel with another person.
Covey identifies six ways to make deposits (or reduce withdrawals):
1) Understanding the Individual. This means listening intently to what the other person is saying and empathizing with how they may feel. Using paraphrasing, reflecting and summarising (if you don’t know what I’m talking about then please Google those terms…there are multiple good YouTube videos to support you). It’s important to care for others and act with kindness toward them.
2) Keeping Commitments. How do you feel when someone arrives right on time when you have a meeting? How about when people simply do what they say they will do, when they say they'll do it? What about if they do neither of those things? You build up an emotional bank balance by keeping your commitments.
3) Clarifying Expectations. We are not mind readers, and yet we consistently expect others to know what we expect of them. Communicating our expectations can help create a higher level of trust. When we ask for what we want, and we get it, we can then trust a little more. Just be careful to remember the key principles of Situational Leadership (YouTube again?)…being too autocratic: telling them what, where, when and how to do something and then continually checking up on them is counter-productive in some situations where the development level is high.
4) Attending to the Little Things. Don’t you find that the little things tend to become the BIG things when they do not receive our attention? Doing the little things is how we honour and show respect for others. Small kindnesses: a smile, a little extra effort, a hug, doing something you didn’t “have” to do - these are the things that build trust.
5) Showing Personal Integrity and Vulnerability. Integrity is the moral foundation upon which trusting relationships are built. When we operate with sound moral character, it makes it so easy for others to trust us. Keeping commitments is hugely important in this respect.
“I would suggest leaders sharing their vulnerability. It can encourage team members to open up, especially those that are struggling.”
- Dawn Hillman: Head of Human Resources at Dutton Gregory LLP
6) Apologizing When We Make a Withdrawal. We will all make mistakes, it’s part of life. But when you see you have violated a trust, sincerely apologising is how we make a deposit to counteract the damage we have done.
When your trust level is high, because you’ve made lots of deposits, communication is almost effortless. You can be yourself, and others understand and appreciate you. Then, when you make mistakes or offend someone unexpectedly, you draw on that reserve and the relationship still maintains a solid level of trust. Conversely, when you are discourteous, disrespect others, interrupt others, speak sarcastically or ignore others, your emotional bank account becomes overdrawn because you have jeopardised the trust level. When the trust level is low, you have to be very careful of what you say; you tend to be more political.
Our most precious relationships (with our spouse/partner, kids, friends, boss and direct reports) require constant deposits, because those relationships continue to grow and change and with these changes come new expectations. These relationships require constant investment.
Take time as a team leader to rate the relationship you have with each team member in terms of your emotional bank account, where does the bank balance currently stand? What more can you do to increase that balance? Be aware of course that the emotional bank account works both ways: what if the other person rarely makes deposits or seems to be continually making withdrawals? Add in the skill of assertiveness to the formerly mentioned skills of empathy and emotional intelligence. Find the words to bring this to the other person’s attention…don’t sit on it…call it. Master the art and science of holding difficult conversations.
Team leaders need to consider that employees who work remotely often work more hours than they would typically work in the office, leading to frustration, bad feeling and even distress. By offering empowerment and autonomy, team leaders provide more freedom for remote workers and show a significant amount of trust.
Communicating with emotional intelligence is a vital factor when offering empowerment – managers can create a more personal connection with employees by learning how to read virtual body language. This is of course more difficult when all you can see is the top half of their body (sometimes just their head and shoulders) so pay more attention to their eyes, their facial expressions and in particular the volume, pace and tone of their voice. If you notice that their body language seems ‘out of sync’ with their words, comment by noting “Your words are saying one thing but your face and your voice seem to be saying something else?” When employees feel understood, valued and respected, the results in the workspace will also improve.
“Learn to read body language, offer empowerment and develop emotional intelligence.”
- Hazel Robinson: Associate Director of Human Resources at Brunel University London
Creating a supportive remote working environment is the new normal
As the world is shifting towards a new way of working, the employee’s needs are also asking for a different approach, and there are lots of ways in which managers and team leaders can help team members adapt and thrive in the new workplace circumstances.
Emotional intelligence and empathy are vital skills for team leaders when managing a team remotely. By focusing on these critical skills and providing a clear structure and constant communication, a more productive and supportive working environment will be created for team members. A healthy working environment is essential for any organisation’s success. It will boost up employee’s engagement, increase discretionary effort (productivity), build loyalty and improve creativity.
Our Covid-19 questionnaire is just 19 questions arranged under 4 behavioural clusters and is ultimately focused on finding out how team leaders could improve the work-from-home experience. We believe this could be an excellent chance for leaders to manage hybrid working more efficiently.
To get more information about this questionnaire, or our 360-degree feedback offerings in general, please email email@example.com.