When offices first closed in mid-March last year, the world began working from home – and leaders hadn’t yet given much thought about how to support an entirely remote team. And that intentional thought continued to get pushed aside, with workers expecting to be back in the office within a month or two. But then Memorial Day came and went, and we thought, for sure we'll be back by July 4th, right? Well then came Labor Day, and then the holidays.
Now it's 2021, many of us are still working from home, and one thing is clear: Gone are the days when leadership will require an entire workforce to report to the office every weekday during the same hours. So what does that mean for workplace relationships?
Companies today are putting more trust than ever in their employees to manage their time. Instead of measuring productivity in hours spent doing their job, greater emphasis is being put on outcomes and results. As long as you get your work done, it doesn’t necessarily have to fit in the 9-to-5 window. Sounds nice, right? But it's not all sunshine and rainbows.
When your work is just a few feet away from where you cook, sleep and watch TV, a blurry line between “on” working hours and “off” personal time inevitably develops. With nearly a year of full-time remote work under their belts, today's employees are struggling with distractions, burnout, and other mental health stressors. Here are a few things for leaders to consider as employee relationships evolve in 2021:
Enable employees to be productive on their own time
Letting your employees know that you trust them to accomplish tasks on their own time can go a long way in boosting morale. The trick is to set your employees up with good communication habits. After all, trusting in your employees doesn’t mean giving them the silent treatment until a project is completed! Many employees may not know what work to prioritize, feel overwhelmed with too many to-do items, or procrastinate without a clear project timeline.
Reach out regularly to see if they have questions about projects, and be sure to send out a clear project timeline as projects are passed to employees so they can better manage their own time. Your employees will appreciate you opening the channels of communication so they feel comfortable asking questions as they arise. Just be aware of the difference between encouraging and demanding – one denotes trust and the other can be discouraging.
Focus on the results
A results-oriented work environment sounds ideal right? Schedules can change on a daily basis – one day we might be done with work at 3pm, while the next day we’re working 'round the clock. However, this type of change is a significant culture shift and can be a challenging transition for your employees.
To mitigate this, here’s a quick hit-list. Make sure all your employees:
- Understand the company mission and goals
- Have the proper communication, collaboration and project management tools
- Are transparent with their projects and timelines
- Feel empowered to share ad-hoc wins, learnings and successes
Encourage vacation (or staycation) time
The concept of unlimited PTO has long been met with both enthusiasts and nay-sayers. While we’re not here to debate that now, what's most interesting is what this type of policy represents in how the employer-employee relationship evolution. The construct of the 9-to-5 working hours is a carry over from shift work, when the vast majority of workers inserted their time card into a machine that stamped the time they arrived and left. While this is still the case in pockets across our workforce, when, where and how work gets done has drastically changed.
Unlimited vacation policies and flexible PTO without approval queues and red tape rely on this same basis of transparency and trust between employer and employee. It’s important for employees to take full advantage of the downtime and vacation time offered in order to re-charge. As a leader, be sure to encourage employees to do what's best for them, and look for signs of burnout that indicate someone may need a break.
Lead with empathy
The ability to work from home has enabled everyone to keep being productive; but even top-performing, passionate workers have a lot on their mind right now – including the health and safety of their families and their financial futures. Now more than ever, it's critical for employers to be trusting, understanding and empathetic. Offer outlets for your team to remain human and let off some steam – like coffee talks, happy hours, virtual team games. The world been thrust into this new way of working, and everyone is (still) adjusting.