The ‘gloss’ of hybrid working will soon dull if business leaders do not know how to successfully keep their teams engaged and motivated whilst working at home.
In 2020, Global Workplace Analytics administered the Global Work-From-Home Experience Survey, where it was found that 76% of global employees want to continue working from home, with more than 77% saying they felt more productive. The Office of National Statistics found that in 2021, 85% of remote workers wanted their businesses to implement a hybrid approach in the future.
With the introduction of hybrid working, people feel better about working from home part time, as they no longer feel isolated. It is the job of a leader to keep encouraging their people and ensure that the business will survive.
There is both anecdotal and survey data to show that the productivity – rather than the popularity – of hybrid working may be declining in some cases. Camilla Cavendish observed (FT Weekend 8 January/9 January 2022) that when COVID-19 first began, remote working seemed like a win for all and that studies showed that employees were sticking to, or in some cases, increasing their hours. She noted a 2020 survey that found both managers and subordinates were more productive. However, since then things have changed; ‘a study of 10,000 killed professionals at a large Asian tech company fell by up to fifth: many were working longer hours, but output fell, partly because they were just having more meetings.’ The Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry in Japan found that working from home reduced productivity by nearly 33% and even a small study in Cambridge suggested that UK workers were spending less time on paid work throughout the lockdowns.
So, whilst hybrid working appears to be here for the foreseeable future for many, it is also clear that, if leaders are to ensure that they maintain, or preferably increase, their people’s productivity when working remotely, they will need to change the way they work. Gone are the days of being in the office 9-5, where you can keep a watchful eye over your employees. Now, leaders must trust their people to get the job done. They need to understand how to communicate their needs in a way that their team will feel motivated and valued. The last two years have been tough for many people, and many businesses have suffered as a result. If a leader shows they care and checks in on their people, they will feel like an important part of the business and want the company to succeed.
A Trust Exercise
Remember in school when you would have to fall backwards, and trust that the person behind you will catch you. You had to believe they had your back and would prevent you from hurting yourself. This is what remote working is for a business. You need to trust that your team will complete their work from home, without constantly monitoring what they are doing.
Have Clear Expectations
Allow yourself to fall back by being clear about your expectations, without micromanaging everything they are doing. Change your focus from their activity to the results they are producing. If an employee feels trusted and valued, they will typically work hard to meet your expectations, and the results will highlight this. If you constantly ask for updates and micromanage every task, they will be unmotivated and underperform.
If you have clearly detailed your expectations and what you want from a project, and effectively communicated your desired objectives and deadlines, you should trust your team to do the work. They won’t let you hit the ground!
Communicate Your Needs
When remote working, communication is essential. Without it, your team will have no idea what they are doing,
when, or why. It is the 21st century, and we have a wide range of technologies at our fingertips, all of which can be used for communication. You can make phone calls, send text messages or emails, or schedule a video call on Zoom or Teams. Choose what is most effective for your business.
You need to know your team. Some members will need more communication and check-ins than others. Understand who you can leave to get the job done, and acknowledge who may need a little more support, especially if isolated from other people.
Hear What Your Team Have To Say
You don’t only need to communicate your expectations; you must also listen to your people. Ask for feedback, learn how to help them better understand what you mean. See who may need a little more assistance in adapting to remote working and the new systems your company may have put in place. Don’t only hear what your people have to say, but also take action. Adapt your own working style and communication behaviours to suit the needs of your team. Show that you are working with them and you are learning just the same as they are. This will help build mutual respect, and your team will work harder to hit your targets.
One way to do this is to allow employees – where practicable – to shape their own workspace. In ‘The Undercover Economist’ Tim Harford quotes a fascinating study (FT.com/magazine March 12/13 2022) where Alex Haslam and Craig Knight, professional psychologists, created a study where participants were asked to perform a variety of simple administrative tasks in various different work environments.
Four different office spaces were tested and ‘when workers were empowered to shape their own space, they did more and better work and felt far more content. When employees were deliberately disempowered, their work suffered and, of course, they hated it.’ One employee went as far as saying that they wanted to punch them.
The results showed that it was not the change in the office space that created stress but the lack of control. Harford added that ‘it should be easy for an office to provide a vastly superior working environment to the home, because it is designed and equipped with work in mind.’ Many people can afford a well-designed and motivating office environment in their own home, often finding themselves at a coffee table or even working from their own bed. However, in their own home, people will have more control, ‘nobody will rearrange the posters on your wall, and nobody will sneer at your ‘dog pictures, or whatever.’ This is something that may seem insignificant but for a lot people allowing an element of control is a winning strategy.
Be Flexible…Up To A Point
To motivate and encourage your people to be more productive, business leaders need to be flexible to their needs. Every one of your team members will have a different home environment, some will have partners, some will have children, some may have other housemates working from home and not much space to work. A leader needs to be understanding, and make an effort to find out each employee’s circumstances, helping as much as possible to ensure that they can successfully still work at home.
Being explicit about the parameters within which you are willing and able to be flexible is also key, along with explaining why. Psychotherapists call this ‘setting boundaries’, and many multinationals have engaged in doing exactly that. As Jim Armitage wrote in The Sunday Times on September 26th 2021 “Unilever is tackling the Covid trend of employees moving to the South of France and beyond to work remotely by insisting they live within a 24-hour commute of the office…it is insisting that employees must be able to reach the office at a day’s notice if called in for an emergency meeting….. a “reasonable commute.””
Be Mindful Of Your Team’s Wellbeing
Be on their side and show your support. Some of your people may have been hiding problems and focusing on work when going to the office, which they simply cannot avoid while working at home. Show you care about your team’s wellbeing. Let them know that you are there for them, and let them know that you respect their needs – for sleep for example!
Intuition, a leading global knowledge solutions company, reported that 80% of current workers would consider quitting their current jobs to look for work that focused more on employees’ mental health.
Show that you are empathetic. Acknowledge the stresses, anxieties, and struggles your team face, and provide a listening ear and calm voice to help them through it. What you must not do is panic, this will only cause more problems. If you are not flexible to the needs of your people, you will lose their loyalty, and your people will remain unmotivated and disinterested in work.
Have Their Back
To prevent remote working being the downfall of your business, you need to ensure that you have your team’s back. In doing so, they will feel valued, reassured, motivated, and will want to support you. Effective communication and working together will help guarantee productivity. Focusing on the results instead of each activity will show that you trust your people. They will hit your targets and meet the expectations you have clearly laid out. This is good leadership practice as well as a great retention tool. After all, as the old cliché says “people join companies and leave bosses.”