Check-in, not check-up: How managers need to change in a changing workplace

This is been said that “managing by walking does not translate to managing by sending e-mails”. That may be true, but that’s not a bad thing either.

In my experience, a manager walking around meant someone was checking you were at your desk. Not useful to ask if you were okay, more to make sure you were working hard. That’s why many law firm employees, for example, are taught to leave a jacket on their chair when they leave for the day – it makes it look like they’re still somewhere in the office.

We need to move away from verification and into registration.

Managing and leading people is hard enough at the easiest times.

Add to that a pandemic and major changes in where and when we work, it was naturally going to make management more difficult. A study reported by harvard business review in 2020 found that more than 40% of managers expressed low confidence in their ability to manage distributed teams. A similar number had negative opinions about the performance of distributed workers. When managers explain 70% of variance in employee engagement (a number that I believe would increase if limited to studying hybrid/remote teams), which has a direct impact on productivity, it’s extremely important to ensure that all managers have the tools and support they need.

I have three great tips to help managers make the transition to managing a distributed team.

Climb on board

The first piece of advice is to get on board. It is going to be extremely difficult to manage a distributed team if deep down, or even worse – vocally, a manager does not support the concept of flexible/remote working. Trust is essential to any effective relationship, but it is unlikely to be present if remote workers feel like second-class citizens.

To change this type of unnecessary manager behavior, leaders must actively show support for distributed agreements by leveraging flexibility themselves and encouraging it in their direct reports. They should also explain why they made the change – whether for retention purposes, positive impacts on productivity, or any other benefit of flexible working.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

It is commonplace to say that good communication is essential. We all know that. But when team members are out of sight, it’s easy to forget about them. Now sometimes we can try to convince ourselves that we are empowering people, but there is a big difference between empowering people and letting them down. One law firm employee I spoke to said she went five months without speaking to her manager after switching to a remote working mode. She wasn’t impressed and didn’t wait any longer.

People also like to communicate differently. There are so many options: verbal in person or by phone/video, written documents/emails, visual diagrams, etc., then you have to choose to communicate synchronously or asynchronously.

Given all of these options, it’s important for managers to discuss with their team to agree on the methods that will be used and an appropriate pace of communication. For example, all quick questions must be asked via Teams/Slack, no emails unless forwarding something, daily 5 minute audio only meetings, weekly video meetings, etc. Like most things, managers will get more buy-in from their teams regarding agreed communication. plan when there have been consultations.

Finally, don’t forget to schedule time for unprofessional communication. Talking about the weekend, hobbies, or even the weather if you’re desperate helps build relationships and strengthen team bonds essential to team performance and prevent feelings of social isolation .

Focus on the results, not the bums

In pure office environments, it’s common to equate time spent in an office chair with productivity. Employees who hover around the office chatting all day long are frowned upon. Those who sit in front of their computer for hours are considered “good” workers. However, this is clearly not a useful measure of productivity. The talkative worker may be much more efficient and do a better job than his counterpart. Or maybe the person sitting at the computer is just watching You Tube videos and searching Marketplace.

When people work in a distributed team, they can’t just be measured by time spent in their seat – which we also know is a wasteful metric. Instead, the focus should be on results. This means that to measure the performance and productivity of a distributed team, it’s even more important than usual to set clear expectations through well-written job descriptions, goals, and key results.

By using these basic standards, you can “check” an employee’s progress, rather than “checking in” to make sure they are working.

Written by Joanne Alilovic.
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