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Making Time for Small Talk: And Other Tips for Making Remote Work a Success - Part II
Friday, April 30, 2021

This is part two of a 3-part series, and the second of several posts addressing remote work considerations arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This series explores tips from companies that have figured out how to run a business with a remote workforce, with advice on how to help re-engage your remote workforce, or, if you already have a good system in place, how to make sure you keep employees productive and satisfied.  Don’t miss Tip One.

Tip Two:   

Be Flexible and Trust

The companies that were working remotely before the pandemic have been teaching and guiding us through this past year, and one major lesson is the ability (and need) to be flexible in the remote environment. For most employers, there is less of a need to require employees to be “on” at all moments of the day. If nothing else, remote work during a pandemic - with homeschooling and child and family responsibilities increased during the normal workday - has shown us that employees can manage their time to work best for them, and still get their work done.

Flexibility depends on trust. The remote work environment presents us with the requirement to trust employees, yet building trust in a remote environment can be difficult. Without the opportunity to observe a coworker working diligently, or bringing notes to a meeting, or sharing insights with colleagues in the hallway, can make trust hard to embrace. But rapport between coworkers and interpersonal trust is what helps employees understand and ultimately help each other (which is critical to a successful enterprise). So how do you get it?

Monitoring and micro-managing to ensure output does not tend to work (in fact, it never works). Employees under surveillance know they are not trusted, and that results in employees with higher levels of anxiety and stress. This, then, results in increased burnout and dissatisfaction, undermining the entire point of a company’s goal, which is to improve work product and output.

The first step in building trust is for leadership to show, and put trust in, employees who will then in turn trust leadership; according to the Harvard Business Review this is called reciprocal leverage. The more trust your employees have in the leadership of the company, the more stability they feel, and the more likely they will be to work productively and seek to impress.

But how do you know if they are doing the work?  Check-ins and a review of employee production will generally tell you what you need to know. Is your workforce producing work product and output? If it has declined or is notably absent, there is a problem that must be addressed. If not, perhaps embracing flexibility and trust is working. Employers can and should take action through discussions or discipline when the remote work requirements are not being met. Trusting the employee to continue to perform and produce quality work does not mean remaining on the sidelines if that does not appear to be successful. The idea, however, is that it can be the exception, not the rule.

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