More people may be working remotely but we still need to manage effectively, says Anna Rasmussen.
The UK is going to have a larger remote workforce in the future, and it poses a challenge for managers. Here are some gains and losses brought about by a switch to remote working, and what they mean for people-centric management.
In 2017, the ONS predicted that 50% of the UK workforce would be working from home in some capacity. Three years on, and the year 2020 seems determined to break that estimate, with the last four weeks necessitating a monumental shift to remote working in a rapidly changing world.
“The pandemic has resulted in what effectively is the largest ‘work from home’ experiment ever conducted in human history,” commented Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, adding, “I think we’ll see these shifts last beyond the immediate fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Even for businesses that had already experienced working from home, the scale of this change has proved challenging. For businesses who had previously steered away from flexi and remote working, it has been an even steeper learning curve.
Now, more than ever, we need to see the whole person. There is no ‘work’ and ‘home’ persona; we are just ourselves
Yet learn they must, because the UK is going to have a significantly larger remote workforce following this. For many employees and businesses, this period has proved how it can be done, and many will be unwilling to turn back to old ways of working.
The challenge for managers
This situation is completely without precedent. It is propelling managers into alien territory, whereby they need to manage people not only through a changing workload, but through a difficult personal situation. And they’re being forced to do this remotely.
Face-to-face managing and remote managing are different, but both share the same core values of honesty, transparency, face-to-face communication, accountability and a people-centric approach. These principles need to be the focus in order for managers and their employees to thrive.
By taking a holistic, clear and structured approach, with weekly conversations and clear actions that both parties understand, managers have a greater opportunity to connect with employees and succeed in managing from home.
“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm,” said the writer Damien Barr recently, and it’s a statement that perfectly encapsulates the very different ways that individuals are experiencing this crisis.
Remote working has brought both gains and losses for everyone. But how those gains and losses affect people varies: a positive gain to one can be a negative addition to another. Even the much-maligned daily commute is being missed by some, while for others it’s a perk that may cause them to reconsider their day-to-day routine in the future.
Similarly, the things we have gained can be a double-edged sword. More time with family can also mean juggling a job with home-schooling. More time to focus, can mean more unwanted time alone.
All of this has created a unique challenge for the people manager. Yet most are using the same management tools and techniques to get through this. Now, more than ever, we need to see the whole person. There is no ‘work’ and ‘home’ persona; we are just ourselves. And pretending we don’t have different unique drivers is just foolhardy.
The key to productivity is engagement. This will come through a strong sense of wellbeing, as people are enabled to thrive, whatever their situation.
A new world: what could better look like?
We don’t know how the world of work will be changed by this experience, and it’s too early for us to define what ‘better’ should actually look like.
But one thing is for sure: managers will need to have a structured insight into employee’s wellbeing, engagement and productivity. They’ll need to know how to ask the right questions to get honest responses.
A recent Forbes article predicted that we could see an increase in the support provided by employers, including mental health and wellbeing provisions. Company culture, too, could become a focus, with leadership improving the way they relate and communicate.
It may also change the way we work with others, allowing for more empathy, flexibility and much needed diversity amongst teams. The article also suggests that we’ll become more empathetic about each other’s work-life, having gained a new appreciation for how we orchestrate our personal lives.
These changes could, in the long term, be hugely positive for businesses, but they will only happen if the effort is put in now. Successfully adapting to the new world will need deeper, more meaningful management methods, that truly focus on the needs and performance drivers of the individual.
The key: what can you do to get there?
Creating a positive employee experience remotely is going to be essential for managers, both in the here and now, and in the future. To get there, we need to bring together a complete view of our colleagues’ situation and incorporate meaningful interaction with every co-worker.
A few examples of how we can do this include:
Understanding who people really are, not just who they present at work.
Having absolute clarity on deliverables. Clear actions are easier to be accountable for.
Making regular wellbeing check-ins part of your weekly schedule.
Capitalising on losses and gains, and what they mean for individuals.
Up to 80% of communication is non-verbal. Face-to-face meetings by video will always be essential to really understand people.
About the author
Anna Rasmussen is founder and CEO of OpenBlend.