Long before the pandemic transformed most of our workplaces, I was happy to work full-time as a remote employee. I’ve been one of those lucky people who didn’t really have to change all that much to adapt to the monumental changes that began to unfold in early 2020. Those changes brought about (among other things) a phenomenon known as the hybrid work environment, which of course has had a huge impact for managers at countless organizations. Now some people are working from home, some people aren’t, and some people are combining the two approaches… and a lot of leaders are struggling to adjust to this new way of working.
Since Sandler (which has had remote employees for years now) was well positioned to make this adjustment, and since I’ve been doing this for a while, I thought I might share my top four insights on that issue, from an employee’s point of view. Each is, I believe, a key to improving relationships and improving performance in today’s work environment.
- Assume good intent. Although Sandler isn't one of them, I still hear about plenty of companies where managers assume, by default, that remote employees are going to try to game the system. This is a problem of managerial mindset. If your first and strongest instinct is to make remote employees prove to you that they are not cheating you or the organization, you've got a couple of big problems to address. Number one, you’re basically asking them to prove a negative, which is impossible. And number two, you already made the decision to trust these people when you hired them. Presumably, you didn’t think they were the kind of person who would be out to take advantage of you when you extended a job offer. Work from the assumption that you made the right call and assume good intent. And by the way, if someone shows you, through their performance, that they do need structure, that they are not the kind of person who can be productive while working remotely, you still need to assume good intent. Yes, there are some people out there who do better in a traditional, show-up-for-work-every-morning setting. That doesn’t mean they’re trying to cheat you; it means they need your support. You will find out very quickly who is and isn't able to thrive in this arrangement. Most people want to get the job done … and do.
- Acknowledge times when remote employees go above and beyond the call – which they often do. Personally, I believe that most employees who work remotely are more flexible and more productive in that environment than they are when they show up in person. I know I’m more likely to agree to take a call at an unusual time or email an important file after hours than I was when I wasn’t working remotely. And here’s the cool part: My boss knows that, too, and makes a point of celebrating those kinds of things when they happen. We both know there is a tradeoff here: Sometimes something urgent comes up at home during the day that I need to take care of; sometimes a fire needs to be put out on the work front before or after “standard office hours.” We both know these things happen; we both know how to deal with them. My boss makes a point of expressing appreciation when I’m able to make a special effort in an unexpected situation, and that makes a difference.
- Avoid the temptation to micromanage. This is a problem in any work setting, but it carries particularly serious ramifications in a hybrid work environment. Again: You trusted the person enough to hire them. Why not trust them enough to do the work in the way that works best for them? Explain clearly what the objective is, including the desired completion date; make sure the person understands and has easy access to all the right resources; get mutual agreement on the circumstances under which the employee is to reach out to you for guidance or approval. If there’s something hurtling toward you that’s both important and time-sensitive on your shared horizon, ask for small pieces of it to review (briefly) at key points on the project timeline. Then – stand back. Get out of the employee’s way. Don’t throw on your Superman cape and leap into the fray. Don’t waste time delivering monologues on how you would do it. Respect the employee’s integrity and their working style. Let them do the job you hired them to do.
- Set up a good communication cadence. A cadence is a repeating schedule of contact and interaction that people can buy into and implement. So, in my case, I work on the East Coast. My boss works on the West Coast. As a practical matter, that means we have a four- or five-hour window where we can talk. We have a regular cadence set up within that window. Two times a week, Tuesday, and Thursday, we set aside an hour. We create an agenda with topics to cover ahead of time to keep us on track. I keep him informed on what I’m doing, and he lets me know what’s coming up. He's sharing information down. I'm sharing information up. We’re co-collaborating on everything that’s going on. This kind of quality communication between manager and employee is hugely important in a remote environment, and setting up a good cadence, one that works for both sides, is how you make it happen. It really surprises me how few managers do this with their remote employees!
This is what is working well for us. I believe managers who follow these four simple steps will unlock significant new levels of productivity, and will also boost morale, among people on staff who are working off-site.
Read this blog post to learn which industries have best adapted to the hybrid selling environment.