Remote Working Essentials

ArLyne Diamond's Profile

Since so many people are still working from home, they don’t have the physical casual contact with each other that they used to have.  Familiarity with others is one of the ways trust is developed.  We know people – we like them – we have learned something personal about them during lunch or coffee.  Now we don’t.  Now they are as far away as though they were on the moon.

Management needs to create opportunities for trust to develop (or re-develop.) 

Years ago, before Skype and Zoom etc., there was some solid research conducted at Stanford about working with distant teams.  Dr. Larry Leifer had student teams each member working separately from each other.  Shortly after starting the project, he assigned them, they started complaining.  Each team member (not able to see the others who were in different rooms) complained that he or she was working harder than others.  When Dr. Leifer put cameras in their cubicles so that they could see each other at work, the grumbling stopped.

SO, in today’s “new normal” where so many people are working from home, and will continue to work from home,  management needs to help people get to know each other in a manner conducive to building trust.

Seeing each other’s faces on team or zoom meetings helps.  I know that when people don’t have their cameras on when I am on one of those meetings and all I can see is their name, I find it disconcerting.  I like – I need to – see the faces of people with whom I am interacting.

We are visual creatures – unless we are significantly sight-impaired. 

Cameras are one step in the process of building trust.

Another, very important step is for people to have the opportunity to get to know each other.  If they are not physically in the same location management needs to provide them opportunities to get to know each other on-line.

When I worked in offices many years ago, we were not allowed to have personal conversations with other staff – all phone calls were business only.  Today, we need to change that rule – if we still have it.

I’m advising clients to overtly give permission to spend some time on the phone or other technology talking with each other and getting to know each other.  Of course, there has to be limits to how much time and what type of questions you can ask.  We have compliance issues to take into consideration.  BUT, separate from telling people what they cannot ask (age, marital status, country of origin, dating requests, etc.) they should be encouraged to get to know each other.

Trust is built that way – assuming of course that it isn’t broken by dishonesty or broken promises.  Also, the ability to get what you need from each other is improved – remember we are all interacting with each other by good-will and persuasion.  We negotiate for what we need from each other – commands and the whip don’t work anymore.

The “new normal” requires changes in the way we do business.  It is foolish, I think to believe we can continue “business as usual” without making adjustments to the needs of the people who are no longer face-to-face.

Some other adjustments

Flexibility needs to be the key.  Many people working from home have family members at home with them.  We cannot reasonably demand they be sitting at their desk during normal business hours without exception.  Some people have to wait until they’ve put the kids to bed before having access to the only computer in the house.

Sprints – or small pieces at a time – are the best way to assign work because we are not seeing our staff and can’t offer on-the-spot corrections.  We need to reinforce, calibrate, change, - or say well done – frequently.

Attaboys have changed.  You, as a manager, can’t just stop by and smile and pat a staff member on the back and say “well done.”  You now need to find specific ways and times in which to notice and reinforce good work.

Recognitions probably have also changed.  An award on the desk or at the top of the cubicle, or even on the bulletin board no longer works.  Perhaps now is the time to create an informal company – or department newsletter so that people can be acknowledged in a way that gives them positive publicity.

Of course, there are more – these are just the basics.