The transition to remote and hybrid work during the Covid-19 pandemic showed a significant gap between how employees and managers see the future. Employees largely embraced the work-from-home regime, while managers often complained and couldn’t wait to get everyone back to the office. The main culprit often quoted was a lack of trust.
Managers often have trust issues when it comes to remote workers. This is especially visible in organizations that value a high degree of control and stability. Organizations that value results and trust over processes are better equipped for the transition to remote work.
“About 40% of the managers and supervisors felt that they don’t have the skills to manage remote workers.”
Research done during the Covid-19 pandemic exposed interesting data. It is indeed a question of trust. But not a lack of trust in employees but rather a lack of trust in managers’ own capabilities. Researchers from the Centre For Transformative Work Design at Curtin University in Western Australia approached more than 1,200 remote workers worldwide to answer a lengthy survey about the impact of remote work on employees’ well-being and productivity. About 40% of the managers and supervisors felt that they don’t have the skills to manage remote workers. Hand in hand with this low level of confidence in their own abilities, 38% of managers felt that remote workers are not as productive as those in the office. 41% of them were unsure whether remote workers can stay motivated in the long run. It seems that the reluctance of managers to allow remote work is directly correlated with their lack of skills in managing remote teams. If you upskill the managers, they may be more comfortable with a hybrid workplace. It needs to start at the top. Those managers micromanaged by their bosses and have low job autonomy are more likely to transfer the same attitude toward their teams. It is a social learning process and leading by example at its worst.
Lack of trust leads to all sorts of panicky attempts by the companies to get a grip on what’s going on in the organization. The one answer some companies came up with is monitoring to ensure remote workers don’t shirk their responsibilities.
“Employee surveillance has negative psychological and social effects, including increased stress, decreased job satisfaction, lower commitment to the organization, and higher turnover.”
Professor Ball Kirstie of the University of St Andrews synthesized and evaluated information from 398 articles on monitoring in the workplace for the European Commission’s Joint Research Council (JRC). It seems that more and more information about workers is made visible to managers through data and is being more widely used. Yet, employee surveillance has negative psychological and social effects, including increased stress, decreased job satisfaction, lower commitment to the organization, and higher turnover. The unclear purpose for which the monitoring is used and invasive monitoring configurations lead to broken trust and a perceived lack of autonomy.
Monitoring never works, and it is often highly counterproductive. It is also the best killer of trust. How can employees trust you if it is blatantly apparent you don’t trust them? And anyone smart enough to work for you probably figures out a way around your monitoring measures. A survey found that 49% of people exposed to detail monitoring reported severe anxiety compared to 7% of those with a low level of monitoring. It increases burnout and dissatisfaction with work and leads to attrition.
The coronavirus epidemic showed clearly that remote work is viable. Many companies and managers realized that they could get the same productivity, if not more, by allowing people to work from home. Those who saw that people wouldn’t work from home and slacked off most likely had the same problem before the pandemic, only not realizing it. People don’t turn from high-performing employees to slackers only by moving from office to home. Managers who believe that the only way to get work done is to have the team in the office under constant supervision are not really managers. They are babysitters who hire children instead of responsible adults.
“You hired adults, and you should treat them like adults. Most employees will reward trust by acting like responsible professionals.”
You hired adults, and you should treat them like adults. There is no need to babysit your employees and constantly check whether they are doing what they are supposed to or whether they spend their time playing and not paying attention. If they do, you made a wrong hiring decision and should depart with such a person.
You hired adults, and you expect them to behave like adults. Most employees will reward trust by acting like professionals capable of managing their work, schedule, and attention.
So what do you need to do to be a good manager of a hybrid team?
To make remote workers feel trusted, you need to change the mindset from micromanaging to delegating and empowering. This doesn’t mean becoming an absent manager. The amount of communication with remote workers needs to be even higher than with those in the office. However, it needs to be the right type of communication. Instead of checking up on them to ensure they work, the manager needs to check in to provide information and support so the employee can work with autonomy. This is important not only for actual managers but also for those in senior technical roles who are in official or unofficial supervisory roles of their less experienced colleagues.
Forget about asking people when they got to the office or how many hours they worked. These things don’t matter. You pay your employees to get some work done, so your questions should be “show me what you accomplished today and how I can support you,” not “tell me when you got in and when you left.” It is all about the results.
- Focus on daily accomplishments – teach your employees to feel good about their achievements and to do it daily. Every evening they should be able to ask themselves a simple question, “Did I do my best to accomplish my tasks today?” or, as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson suggest, “Have I done a good day’s work?” If the answer is yes, it creates a great feeling and a good night’s sleep. If the answer is no, it leads to a retrospective of why it was the case and what to do better tomorrow to accomplish what you set to accomplish.
- Level the playing field – as a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure a level playing field between those who show up in the office and those who work remotely. Everyone must feel they belong, are treated equitably, and have the same opportunities. If most of the team sits in a meeting room having a lively conversation, and one poor soul is dialing in over a phone without a good microphone, not hearing half the conversation, and never being given a chance to contribute, it won’t lead to success.
- Eliminate overwork – the biggest problem with remote work is not that people become slackers, but the opposite. People struggle to set boundaries and let the work spread all over their lives. They work more hours than when in the office, have fewer real-life social interactions, and have a bigger chance of burnout. Don’t let anyone overwork themselves. It is not good for them, and it is not good for you. Overworked, tired, and burned-out zombies are not happy and not productive. The best employees can find the right balance and provide a consistent, sustainable effort.
- Allow for hybrid work-life – some people need to feel like being at work. They need to feel the white noise of the busy workplace. They need to see other people working as it motivates them and helps them focus on their work and be productive. Seeing other people work often motivates us also to work. If that is your case or the case of some of your employees, then provide that opportunity. Have an office where they can show up, get a couple of desks at some co-working space, or let them work from a coffee shop if that works for them.
- Sponsor good Internet connectivity – one of the biggest challenges with remote work is Internet connectivity. Especially when you need to have frequent video calls, you need a solid internet bandwidth to keep a reasonable level of productivity and sanity. Stanford research during the Covid-19 pandemic showed that only 65% of Americans reported having a good enough internet connection to have decent video calls. The rest have either poor connectivity or no connectivity at all, therefore unable to work from home effectively. And it’s not too different in the rest of the world.
- Reconfigure the office space – you may need to revisit not only what is the purpose of the office space but also how to configure it so it fits the new purpose. It should focus more on collaboration and creativity rather than just pure focus on work. The focus is better done at home if the company provides the employees with the means to make the home focus friendly. It may not work for all, but it will work for some. Again, flexibility and choices are the kings. Since a hybrid world may lead to the desire of companies to limit the available office space and adopt things like shared workstations, it is worth noting that having a bland, uniform office space without the ability to personalize it for each employee may not be the best idea. Research suggests that prohibiting employees from displaying their personal items and possessions, like pictures of family, leads to identity threat and limits their ability to feel distinctive and bring their whole selves to work.
If you worry about employee productivity while working from home, then be aware that the increasing number of things you measure and even violating their privacy is not the way to go. Instead, work on your own personal and professional development as a manager and a leader so you build enough confidence in yourself that you can start with trust. Trusting your team will allow you to focus on accomplishments rather than on how many hours someone works. It will level the playing field and eliminate overwork. Putting some budget towards good Internet connection and reconfiguring the office space to allow for better collaboration while feeling at home even at the office will make it easier for everyone to be productive and happy, even in the hybrid world.
What is your take on the topic? Did the role of managers change during the Covid-19 pandemic? What do you expect from your manager when you work remotely? Have you seen more scrutiny and micromanagement by your manager during the pandemic? Do you believe that your manager trusts you? Do you trust your team?
Photo: anti950819 / Pixabay.com
If you enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing to get notified whenever I publish new stories or check out my book Quiet Success: The Introvert’s Guide To A Successful Career