2020 was a milestone in many ways, one was the unleashing of working from home. It’s been growing for many years (I started WFH in 1988) but was enforced for many employees last year. Changes to working practices take time, it’s one thing working from home but another managing staff are working from home. You’ve probably been doing it for a while, but as it’s a new year, maybe it’s time for a review and some fresh “resolutions”
What will normal be?
Hopefully COVID will now subside as an issue and many people will return to the office. But many reports suggest that WFH will remain for many people, for more of the time. Suggesting working from home will become normal.
So this is a good moment to review how you’re managing staff working from home. It’s new year, that’s always a good time for promises.
Who is working hard?
Presenteeism was a management fad a while ago; managers stayed longer and longer hours to show they were working hard and (hopefully) get respect from their staff.
Has presenteeism died away? If you see someone at their desk they must be working, right? It’s an underlying assumption many leaders have, even those who initially say otherwise. The real question should be are they being productive ?
That implies if you can’t see them, you worry they’re not working hard. In 2020 we got better at accepting people were working from home, but many leaders still have a fear that WFH = not working hard and want everybody in the office.
It’s natural to look for evidence. Evidence is not always as easy as counting keystrokes or the like and we tend to start with a cognitive bias. “The evidence” is gleaned when we hear from staff, know what they’re up to, how they’re feeling and thinking.
Therein lies the problem. Extroverted employees feel de-energised without enough social interaction. In the office they might get interaction at the “water cooler”, stopping at your desk or chatting to colleagues. Now they’re working from home that interaction is emails, online chat or phone calls to you or their colleagues. So you hear from them, as it suits them!
Your natural assumption, as you know what they’re doing, feeling and thinking? They’re responsive, engaged and productive.
Who do we assume isn’t working hard?
Then there’s the others, the ones that don’t keep in touch as often. The ones that don’t proactively let us know every time they’ve done something and don’t tell us how they’re feeling. In fact, they may give only the barest of information about feelings in your virtual team meetings.
The introverts in your team are (for most tasks) more productive when left alone, as there’s no interruptions, distractions, or gossip. They get on and focus on the job, without the noise of the open plan office (when it’s noisy introverts find it harder to concentrate).
However, they’re not going to proactively call you as often and they’re not likely to share their feelings in your team meetings. The easy assumption? They’re not as engaged or productive. Don’t be shocked, many leaders think it.
9 tips to improve managing working from home
These tips will help you improve your team’s productivity and help you focus on your role rather than stressing about your team. You’ve had 2020 to practice managing working from home, use the new year as time for new practices in your team.
- Beware recency bias: Just because some people are telling you what they’re up to, doesn’t mean they’re doing more.
- Beware cognitive bias. Don’t just look for evidence to support what you already thought.
- Agreed deadlines are more important than before. Discuss, set, and agree how you’ll both check in. Your new habit might be to stick to the plan! Introverts prefer clear structured tasks to something less defined, help them create it. Extroverts may prefer something less structured, but you need to jointly impose some structure, if you’re to have confidence they’re productive.
- Don’t just ask if it’s all OK: Dig deeper, ask to see what’s been ticked off the list, ask to see some work in progress, share screens and look. Introverts tend not to like sharing incomplete work, so agree these progress checks up front. Extroverts may relish collaboratively working on half-completed work. Act accordingly.
- Agree how, and when, you’ll discuss progress. Some leaders don’t like interrupting staff, others do it all the time – neither is good. By calling at agreed times you’re not interrupting! Nobody likes being checked up on, but if you agree the deadlines and progress reporting beforehand introverts will appreciate your thoroughness and consideration. Extraverts may work in a more structured way, so you can have more confidence about productivity.
- Use more technology. You might not love tech, but your team are probably OK with it. Systems like Microsoft Teams, Ninety.io and Asana allow you to see what they’ve completed as they go, without interrupting them. So you can check as often as you like, without interrupting them. It also makes them work in the structured way you want them to.
- More, but shorter, meetings: Whether one to one or team meetings shorter and focused is better than long and rambling. It doesn’t matter which system, being able to see them, talk and screen share are important. Click here for ways to improve remote team meetings
- Follow up, don’t check up: Stick to the plan for checking in with people, both in meetings and one to one review. Don’t rely on just picking up the phone, or sending random emails; that interrupts you and your team reducing effectiveness (especially for introverts)
- Keep it up. This is a new habit you need to develop, what will help you turn it into a habit? The worst thing is to tell your staff you’ll keep this going and then stop. You’ll lose respect and they won’t believe you in future