Out of sight most definitely isn’t out of mind and with more and more staff working remotely, authentic, sensitive, and effective engagement by managers is vital. For many employees, working from home will be an extension of normal working patterns – whilst for others, it will turn everything they know about work completely upside down. And likewise whilst many will find the assimilation between home and work life easy, for others it will be a much trickier transition.
And so, we need to be attuned to our people’s needs and the external and internal factors which will be impacting upon them. This will be logistical things – such as balancing looking after children whilst juggling workload as well as emotional challenges: fear, worry, dread, sadness, all these feelings which this period in our lives keep throwing up. Here are some principles that can help us to stay connected and engage our people when we are working apart in this difficult time:
1. The first thing is person before task. However herculean our efforts might have been to maintain a level of service during this time, we cannot pretend that this is ‘business as usual.’ And so checking in with how people are feeling, how they’re doing, before conversations about the job in hand is vital.
2. Offer support. And with checking in it is important to know what support you can offer to someone who might be struggling either logistically or emotionally, whether that’s access to a helpline, or helping out on a task.
3. Give choice. We know that in all of our engagement activities, people respond to different methods and approaches. Although the conduits for communications open to us might have reduced somewhat, we can and should still give choices. Skype? Telephone? Zoom?
4. Manage expectations. We can do this through setting time aside for catch-ups, diarising these and sticking to them wherever possible. This will help to give some structure and focus for the employee, and maintain a level of normality in an ever changing sea of change.
5. Look for opportunities to connect. Wherever possible, keep the connection open between teams and with the organisation. Many people may find it isolating to be working remotely and so look for ways to remind people that they are part of something bigger – that they are not alone, even if physically they are. And, this could have a social element to it too – Zoom quiz anyone?
6. Show appreciation. And more of it. Let people know that they are doing a good job even if it’s what they would describe as ‘just my job.’ With distance and in a climate that can feel overtly negative, people need to hear messages of positive reinforcement more than ever. And, make this recognition authentic and frequent.
7. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, show trust. This should be a fundamental strand to our engagement with remote workers. Show people that you trust them to do their role through setting clear objectives, being available to offer support, then letting them get on with it. Indeed, a concern around being mistrusted may be even driven by the employees themselves, keen to demonstrate that they are still working hard in the unusual confines of their home. We absolutely need to let people know that we trust them as they settle into this new way of working.
The seeds we sow now with our people, in these terribly difficult circumstances we all find ourselves in, will blossom when life has reverted to some normality – whatever that might look like. And whilst distance might keep us remote from our staff, how we engage can in fact create closer connections.