Old school managers used to like to “eyeball” their teams in order to get the best out of them. And there have been some very good reasons for that.
Using non-verbal information that people provide (usually without even knowing it) is a valuable tool. When having a conversation with someone, particularly a difficult one, you can gather a lot of information from the other person’s body language, eye contact (or lack of eye contact), and many other little clues which can let you know if the person nodding and saying yes is truly on board with what you are saying.
This can give you a chance to overcome objections and explain reasons for doing things that will encourage people to work with you and not against you.
Other positive uses can be the opportunity to catch minor problems before they become major ones and provide training for any issues that may become evident. And of course, don’t forget the chance to provide positive feedback and encouragement to people.
Of course, sometimes it is not such a great thing, particularly if the Manager is trying to use their eyeballing ability to micro-manage or criticise their team. To effectively catch them doing something wrong, instead of catching them doing something right.
So now that the transition to remote working has been accelerated so dramatically, have Managers kept up?
Are their usual management skills and the style they have been utilising transferring well to remote teams?
Some managers will feel a bit out-of-touch, and helpless. Some will continue to try to micro-manage and dominate their teams remotely, keeping their teams monitored more than they actually were when working from the team environment. But is this a great idea?
Remote working was feared by many, with a whole range of companies ignoring calls from people to have more flexibility and work from home on a full time or hybrid basis. They feared that productivity would drop, people would effectively “steal” time from the company, or that they would lose control of their employees and the quality of their work would suffer.
Now that Global events have forced remote working as an option, a lot of these companies have found that the world hasn’t ended because their employees aren’t travelling to a central location every day. In many cases productivity has improved and opportunities have opened up for valuable employees to come on board who weren’t available or comfortable with the traditional central office structuring.
I was recently talking to the Manager of a subsidiary of a Professional firm. The Company Directors wanted to know how he was keeping control of his remote staff, how he knew they were working the right number of hours, and whether he was monitoring the time online and working during normal business hours.
He responded quite simply. “I am not micro-monitoring them, that would be a waste of my valuable time. I know they are working appropriately because the work is being done to the standard I require. I don’t care if they sit down and log in from 9 am to 5 pm. I only care if they are supporting me in my role efficiently and appropriately”.
It's not that hard really, is it? Whilst the Directors were trying to “control” their own teams who were required to work from home and stressing and wasting time trying to make remote teams the same as their office teams – the other guy was just getting on with what had to be done, and his figures actually improved during compulsory lockdowns. He gave his team a pay rise.
Of course, not everyone will adjust to remote working in the same ways, and it requires skill as a manager to make sure everything is working well for your own team. The point here is that the skills required to manage a team well have always needed to be adaptable and empathetic. Those who want things to always stay the same and always be in total control will not thrive in any Management role.
Your team don’t want to be micro-managed and not trusted whether they are in the central location or working at home. The best managers mentor, delegate and coach more than “manage”. If your team are now remote these skills may become even more important.
There will always be employees who don’t perform as per expectations, and some who try to take advantage of their employer. However, it is likely that these people were doing this before they had to work remotely. There have been stories in larger workplaces of these people actually being managed better now due to the strategies required to manage a team remotely. People who slipped under the radar within a large workplace are being seen. Their work output is individually monitored, and they are more accountable, whilst they are receiving individual communication and coaching.
So, was the problem really remote working?
When Covid does finally make its way to being endemic, what is going to happen to remote work?
Not many people think that things will go right back to the way they were. Some research suggests hybrid working will be the norm, with the best of being part of a team, and the best of solo remote work taken and used to advantage. Companies will be expected to provide options where appropriate, with cost savings to their business and a happier workforce being the desired outcome. Some people may choose to continue at home, some go back to the office.
And some will go for the ultimate hybrid option, which for many is turning out to be a Coworking space close to home. This option gives people more flexibility and less travel, whilst maintaining the feeling of being “at work” with no distractions from the washing and the kids.
The best managers will add this option to their list. Not compulsory, but cost-effective and keeping their employees who choose this option happier and more productive.
It all comes down to the same old basic skills with some new twists. Hire well, monitor the outcomes, give some allowance for individual working arrangements that let employees produce their best, and coach and encourage.
Sounds like a win-win to me!