We all work differently, and we all have a different passion about the work-from-home model. 2020 was all about getting employees working from home, whereas 2021 has been about finding the best methods to achieve success through flexibility, communication, and mutual understanding. While many have illuminated the pros and cons of the work-from-home model, few have fixed the spotlight squarely on what should be the key element in this debate: finding success in the WFH model is a two-way street for both managers and their teams. While managers need to understand their teams and drive conversations, employees bear a modicum of responsibility by being cognizant of their work styles and individual needs when joining those conversations.
When we look back at the past year, it may well be noted that the best managers during 2021 were the ones that offered employees flexibility where they may need it most and developed open lines of communication. The key to success is identifying solutions unique to each employee rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Here are a few ways to offer remote employees better communication, more flexibility and support:
Remote Employees Work Model
Every day, more and more of my clients are transitioning into a hybrid work model, returning to the office two or three days a week. For some employees, this may be the ideal solution, allowing them the social face time they’ve been craving, plus the quiet productivity the solitude of home provides them. For others, this change will be yet another disruption in a routine they have willingly settled into. Don’t assume that team members will easily make the transition. Some will roll with the changes, while others will resist this move back into the office, even if only partially. When hiring new employees, I am experiencing that most candidates are asking for a hybrid option and the companies that are predominantly working in the office are having a harder time meeting their hiring needs.
Over the course of the past year, you may have refined the training process, or it may still need some fine-tuning. Either way, the open-door policy, which has typically allowed new employees the ability for quick, immediate answers to questions, will be limited or gone altogether. So, scheduling additional training could make up for that.
A huge perk of working from home is that it gives employees the option to better leverage their personal peak productive times and schedule their day as needed. This flexibility has been shown to increase both productivity and creativity significantly. This may be outside the typical 8 to 5 routine but allowing employees more autonomy with their daily calendar has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health. Being able to pick up the kids in the afternoon or finally make their soccer game improves that work-life balance, but also productivity.
Personally, I communicated early on with my supervisor about going for a midday run. If she needs me during that time, she can always call, and that tells me it’s urgent. Otherwise, I simply start my day a bit earlier to make up for that time as I am much more productive in the early hours as compared to the late afternoon.
Building communication and trust
Communication is key in building a foundation of trust and understanding what each team member requires to relax and settle into their most productive routine. Cultivate an environment of transparency by asking questions of what they need or how you can help them be successful versus telling them your observations, which inevitably puts people on the defensive. At the same time, employees should be mindful of their needs and be prepared to speak up in times of unease.
It may be helpful to establish an obligation for a quick response—whatever the chosen line of communication is for your team. When there is no visual of what an employee is doing, managers must rely on an employee’s response, and a quick text saying they will reply soon can put everyone at ease. For example, some employees prowl their emails while others only check once per hour to stay more focused. Therefore, email response time is probably not a great metric of remote engagement.
It is important for remote employees to feel successful. How will that be determined? Key performance indicators used a year ago in office may no longer be applicable. There may be employees on the team with specific job-related KPIs that are easy to track, such as sales figures or the number of calls handled. For others, new KPIs might be defined by using “SMART” goals, defined as those that are specific, measurable, achievable, relatable, and timely.
Wise managers will involve remote employees in setting these new KPIs. After all, remote employees have the best insight into their job specifics and how those might be tracked. Open communication between managers and employees of new KPIs, team goals, and expectations can create a comfortable feeling of cooperation for all concerned. Empower every individual. This might be done by increasing recognition which can acknowledge employee dedication and efforts while allaying fears they may have about not being seen or the security of their role. “During periods of disruption, employees’ desire for being recognized for their contribution increases by about 30%,” according to Brian Kopp, Vice President of Research at Gartner.
When the pandemic first hit, we began our weekly team meeting by discussing our team members’ latest “win.” This has continued to set the stage, allowing us to recognize the hard work of one another and focus on the positives, especially through a difficult year.
For one company working remotely, now moving into a hybrid model, they have found success with more formal, scheduled opportunities to check in daily. This provides employees the ability to ask questions and connect with managers. They plan frequent video chats to include employees living in other states while making sure to avoid the video burnout from too many.
Ultimately the success of remote work will hinge greatly on managers creating and driving the conversation, while employees should be equally culpable for their participation in the communication and showing up with solution-oriented ideas and suggestions to help with their own success. This may be something that requires in-depth team training around communication methods and styles that are no longer face-to-face.
About the Author
Danielle’s best days at work are when she is talking to candidates and connecting her clients with top talent. With nearly 15 years of Accounting and Finance experience, her passions are rooted in her knowledge of the profession and adding value through providing both distinctive client service and a meaningful candidate experience.