In addition to everyone trying their best to work from home, some people managers are dealing with an entirely new dynamic for the first time. Managing at home. There has been a swing from embracing to refusing to implement virtual workforces over the years but now hard nosed opponents have no other choice. These are a few of my observations on adapting when you can no longer see your team across the room.
The first observation is harsh and the implications are as well. If you can’t trust your team to work at home you could never have trusted them to work in the office. Historically one of the criticisms I have heard over the years from old school managers was that they needed to see their people working to know they are actually doing it. A CIO at a Fortune 100 I know literally counted the cars in the parking lot at seven in the morning and railed on his people about not working just from this observation.
As one of the people who routinely worked till two in the morning for this fossil I can confidently say the location of my car at seven was not a measure of my contribution or dedication.
Put simply, attendance is not a measure of productivity. If you are managing a team and the only input you have on productivity is whether or not they are sitting in a cube you are in the wrong job. Similarly if a team member is ghosting and not delivering at home it is likely they weren’t delivering in the office either. Character reveals itself in crisis. I believe a good team member will continue to be a good team member in times like this. It is my job as a manager to make sure I am inspecting the things that matter and not hold on to past habits that never worked in the first place.
While we are forced to give up physical presence in times like these, being connected and engaged is not something we have to sacrifice. By now everyone has been on a dozen or more Zoom meetings to try and stay in touch. Adapting to this is harder for older workers for a number of reasons not all of which are technical. I for one am not pretty to look at and very self-conscious about it. The camera adds ten (or 50) pounds. It is also in HD and makes lines on my face look like a relief map of the Rockies. It is important to encourage the “face time” to make everyone feel more connected. Even those who do not like it will appreciate it to a point. Just do not use shame culture to make it happen.
As managers, be sensitive to what is going on around the video as well. You do not know who is just out of sight or hiding behind that virtual background. For example, culturally profanity in the workplace has very different levels of acceptance. Regardless of whether you think it is appropriate or not remember profanity has a very different impact when there is a three year old listening you can’t see. You are projecting your presence into someone’s home and you should be respectful in that regard. And yes I know headphones are a thing but there are many who, for whatever reason, might not use them. Your behavior needs to acknowledge the video presence a team member shares with you demonstrates a personal vulnerability on their part and yours. You are are a guest in their home just as they are in yours, even if you are by your pool at the time.
Apart from embracing the video meeting, calendars should be open and visible to the entire team – even yours. This is a cultural some companies embrace but for many older businesses it is seen as a horrific invasion of privacy. Making availability visible is not enough. We should be as open as possible about what we are doing.
As a manager of a team, it helps me immensely because I am able to understand where time is spent and react early when someone is getting over allocated. It is not my objective however to eliminate “white-space” on their behalf. The calendar itself is NOT a measure of productivity but a communication tool. Working at home especially demands that non-work related time also be blocked. Obviously detail on this personal time does not need to be shared but this is where honesty and trust comes in. We are dealing with extraordinary times when support systems we rely on like day care are not available. We have to adjust. As a manager I have to give the team the flexibility to deal with that sort of thing.
As a team member, I have to give myself the permission to do be flexible as well as promoting it for my team. It is not your place as a leader to be the uber-employee, unencumbered by the problems of mere mortals. This is an opportunity for you to model best practices not just talk about them. This applies to everything from calendar management, virtual etiquette and flexibility. Maintaining your own health, mental and physical, is one of the best things you can do for your team as well as yourself. One size however does not fit all.
Uniformity in how we work at home is not the objective. There are practices, policies and procedures that should be the same but as the workplace extends to the domicile you need to be aware that there is a line. While they may be doing business from their home, the business of running the team’s home is none of yours. Know your limits.
Lastly, this is a time when individuality and creativity will discover new ways to get old things done and I do believe work will never be the same. Potentially it will be much better for it. Those that can not adapt though will fall behind. The teams and the businesses they comprise will disintegrate if workers can’t remain connected and engaged. We have a unique opportunity to grow as leaders but know that the behavior you model will be critical in determining which way your company will go.