In our new reality, many teams are working from home. Managers who have not established a culture of trust before the pandemic may be struggling now that their employees are out of sight. Nervous managers may feel the need to establish rules to ensure that their employees are working hard and not taking advantage of the lack of supervision to catch up on Netflix, play with the kids or get some exercise. However, experts warn against micromanaging in this time of crisis and instead tout the importance of truly listening to employees.
Employment lawyer Ariel Weindling is all too familiar with managing employee problems. His company, #NotMe, was designed to allow users to report and communicate with their employer about issues of misconduct. Weindling says that strong company culture is key when employees are no longer present in the office.
Develop A Culture Of Trust
“For the past two to three years, everybody has been speaking about culture and what it means to take care of your employees,” says Weindling. But he adds that the employees can tell if their company was merely providing lip service or if they are truly good corporate citizens. Those that were sincere about developing a culture of trust with employees will fare better during the pandemic. “In a time of crisis, we are going to see what culture means. It’s going to put company culture to a very strong test. Companies that have not fostered a true culture that is centred around the respect and the individual needs of the employee will have an uphill battle now that their workforce is remote.”
While those companies who have already established a culture of trust will fare better when the employees are working remotely, it’s not too late for those who are lagging behind. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that managers can take to make their culture more transparent and create more trust in this urgent time.
Although when work seems out of control, the temptation may be to micromanage, Weindling says this will be counterproductive. “Companies are freaking out because they used to be able to monitor their employees and see what they were doing on a daily basis. Managers used to know what everyone on the team was doing. It’s different now.” Still, he suggests, employees will respond better to trust than to micromanaging.
A leaked letter from the Wall Street Journal suggested the news outlet’s managers wanted to know what their employees were doing every moment including when they were taking breaks and when they were conducting interviews. Weindling says this management style will only alienate the team, adding, “This is completely patronizing and condescending, and it’s not what employees want to hear right now.”
Listen With Empathy
Instead, Weindling suggests that employers listen to their employees to find out what issues they’re having while working from home. “What you can do now is a lot of listening; it’s all about communication, managers need to communicate with empathy. It is not a time to patronize anyone. It has to be a time of togetherness.”
Stanford economics professor and working from home expert Nicholas Bloom agrees that listening is critically important. He told Vox, “Every morning and every afternoon spend, 10 minutes video-talking individually to each of your employees. This is time-consuming but critical for keeping employees happy and productive through the next few months. In the longer run, it will build valuable loyalty by sticking with your employees through the good times and the bad times.”
Encourage Employees To Discuss Problems
The trust that’s developed from truly listening is key to the successful management of a remote workforce, but managers should also make it clear that they want to hear about any problems. Leadership coach, Sabina Nawaz, wrote about the importance of inviting employees to share any problems that arise. She suggested that managers reach out to their employees and say, “In our current world, we all have questions, few people have answers. If you see signs of trouble, issues that aren’t visible to me, don’t wait to come to me until you have an accompanying solution. Bring me your early indicators and together, we’ll devise experiments to tackle the challenge.”
Weindling agrees that soliciting problems is key part of developing a culture of trust. He pivoted his #NotMe app to help employers communicate with their employees and to stay on top of all types of problems, not just those relating to misconduct. His clients are now using the app to help bridge the gap between employee and employer that has resulted from the increase in telecommuting. Managers receive a report each morning highlighting and organizing all problems recorded, so nothing slips through the cracks.
The level of telecommuting that we’re currently experiencing is unknown territory for most managers. It’s natural for leaders to want to tighten their grip over their employees. But, to succeed in this new reality, bosses should fight the urge to micromanage, and focus instead on empathetically listening to their employees.