(Note to readers: We received a lot of valuable feedback on this post! People requested more detail on how to observe remote workers, so we expanded our previous post. Thank you for reading, and we hope the additions are helpful! — Ken)
How do I know people are doing the right things in the right way when they are working remotely?
I’m hearing this question a lot as remote and hybrid working have become the “new normal.” Operating virtually creates a genuine barrier, and we all know it. But it’s a barrier that skillful leaders can leap over.
As a leader, what can you do?
Should you use keystroke counters and always-on cameras to observe your people, because you can’t fully trust them? Or, maybe you should “trust but verify?” Or, “trust and hope for the best?”
Note that recurring word “trust". There has to be trust between you and your team, or working remotely won’t work. Trust can’t be blind, of course. You need to build trust by engaging your people in focusing on what’s important. But how do you do that when you can’t easily observe them?
You need specific information about how they are approaching their work, what they are doing/saying, how they are organizing/prioritizing, and—especially—what they may be avoiding.
First, check your own leader behavior.
Your leader behavior is key to building trust and breaking down that remote barrier. You can do so by demonstrating the following:
- Partner with your employees to set achievable sub-goals, and frequently provide objective feedback on how well people are doing.
- Listen with a complete focus on understanding what your people are doing, their thinking, and concerns.
- Make a perspective-taking effort to better understand the conditions under which they are working and living (stay in your own shoes while appreciating their perspective).
- Build-in positive accountability by reinforcing the behavior you want. To do this, here are some questions you might ask:
- What worked well for you this week? What was the best thing you did?
- What have you tried differently this week?
- What did you do this week that got you the best response or result from a customer or worked well?
- Remember how we talked about doing _____ the other day? How did it go when you tried it? Can you give me an example?
- What’s the most powerful feedback you got from a client or coworker this past week?
- Help people stay connected to the mission and strategy. Ask them:
- What difference have you made this week in someone else’s life?
- What conversations have you had to live our brand this week?
- What successes have you had to extend your network?
Build trust through dialogue, listening, and feedback.
Back to building trust. Building trust over distance is not easy, but here are some proven actions you can take:
- Make sure people see how their daily behavior (what they do and say) leads to desired business results.
- Focus on proven Business-Critical BehaviorsSM like setting clear direction, building people’s competency, and measuring their progress.
- Listen to understand.
- Offer value-adding insight and feedback.
When communicating with remote employees, ask them what they are experiencing as they work. Show genuine interest in their day-to-day work, as well as customer and peer conversations. Get to know each employee’s remote working environment, technology, family distractions, etc. Listen to their concerns.
Make these frequent check-ins supportive rather than evaluative. Show them that you really care. Every interaction can function both as a learning experience and a trust-building moment.
How do you really know when your remote employees are doing what they should?
Trust your KPIs. If the metrics are trending in the right direction—and you know people are achieving them through the right behaviors—then things are likely operating as they should, regardless of where people are working or their working style.
Of course, you may need to shape some new behaviors around these metrics. For example, employees might need to innovate or customize processes in adjusting to their new situation, while maintaining the core intent of these processes. Similarly, you must be more consistent in asking directly about employees’ impact and experiences to tap into the things that matter.
Remember the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But in reality, this is not sufficient. Instead, the Platinum Rule should be our guide: “Do unto others as they would like done unto them.” Follow this and your people will do the right things, the right way—even when no one is looking.