As a consequence of understanding the dollar value of their time, many company leaders and CEOs can gradually acquire an unspoken air of unapproachability. Of course, most do not consciously keep their employees at an emotional distance. Instead, they unwittingly project an aura that can cause others to think twice before opening their mouths or sending an email.
This was true long before anyone knew anything about Covid-19. Sadly, when employees began to flee office buildings and take up a lifestyle of remote work, the problem of perceived management unapproachability in many cases only got worse.
As more and more businesses move into 2022 by adopting a hybrid model of in-person/remote workforces, business leaders are increasingly in need of inviting — and even welcoming — a restructuring of their communication practices. If that causes some to balk at increased expense, it might help to remind them that Covid-19 only exposed a pre-existing problem.
As you consider the ways in which your company may need to retool its management practices so that in-person and remote workers are on level terrain when it comes to their own perceived value, here are four categories to help you discern where a tune-up is recommended.
1. Project confidence in all of your employees.
The first barrier to break down is any perception that management places primary value on its in-person workers, over and above their remote workforce. If anything, many business leaders found that their employees became even more productive once they were freed of commuting, cubicle farms, and office politics.
Send out brief, encouraging messages to all of your employees, regardless of location. If one of your remote workers brought in additional business, send them a quick thank-you card by mail. The extra effort required to send out a personalized greeting card means more than you might imagine. Celebrate your in-person wins in person, perhaps by briefly calling staff together and setting up a Zoom call for interested remote workers to join in.
Above all, be on the lookout for any signs that your workforce is splintering along in-person/remote lines. When you convey an equitable approach as you celebrate, coach, and yes, discipline, you are setting the tone for others. You’ll have solid ground upon which to stand if you do find that remote workers are being marginalized or left out of decision-making.
2. Make yourself readily available, albeit with good boundaries.
Sometimes it helps to attack the problem of perceived unapproachability by dismantling in advance the possibility of someone claiming that you weren’t available. At a basic level, ensuring that you have secure home wifi is a good first step. Add an email signature to “broadcast” to every employee the best ways to reach you, but remember points of contact with employees should never be a “one and done” sort of practice.
In addition to making your availabilities widely known by all, you might consider dropping a personal line to one or two employees each day. Something short and simple — “Hey, I know that client deadline is coming up and I just wanted to make myself available to you if needed.” — can make all the difference. Employees stay motivated when they perceive that you are not only aware of their pressures but checking in to make sure they’re OK.
In addition to short, employee-specific notes, emails, texts, and phone calls, consider setting up an advanced calendaring app and allow others to grab snippets of your time as they feel they are in need. If an employee is struggling in isolation, you want that to be something they themselves chose rather than a byproduct of them not being able to interact with you as needed.
3. Train yourself to distinguish between a failure and a snafu.
Did that client deadline get missed because a staff member did not bother to attend a critical Zoom call…or because no one thought to make sure that a remote employee was invited? Obviously, in our new era of managing a hybrid workforce, business leaders must be more diligent than ever in terms of conducting a thorough, accurate post-mortem on company failures.
This one is admittedly tough. When things go wrong at work, many of us experience a sudden adrenaline rush of negative emotions. It can be tempting to think that we know exactly why something went haywire and act quickly. However, it’s only common sense to think that dispersing our workforce between a central location and all over the internet might bring some previously unconsidered factors into play. Best to move slowly with any after-action.
The two primary things any savvy manager will do is to 1) invest adequate time in finding out what truly happened, and 2) determine if processes and procedures need to be tweaked. Many may resist the investment of time, but failing to uncover the root cause is more or less an invitation for the problem to recur. Where did the project fall apart? Who (or what) bears primary responsibility? Honest mistake…or something that requires disciplinary action?
4. Initiate shorter points of contact, but more of them.
Finally, the development of a well-oiled in-person/remote workforce will require more frequent interaction with staff but each of those interactions will need to be targeted, concise, and straight to the point. It’s commonly accepted that you will get more accomplished in a meeting of four to five people than you will in a room of 20. Instead of working a 40-point agenda once a month, set up times for five-minute phone calls to individuals or a 15-20 minute meeting online with three or four.
Similar to making yourself more available and approachable for employees to initiate contact, you will want to “force your newfound approachability on them” with brief points of contact throughout the workweek. Doing so will require sensitivity to the needs and personalities of your staff, of course. Some will welcome seeing you every day, others will max out their comfort level talking to you once a week.
As you intentionally interact more frequently and for shorter intervals of time, you’ll save money on widely-attended staff meetings and get to know your people better over the course of time. As you begin to appreciate each employee better, you’ll develop a keener sense as to how you can make them feel more valued and appreciated. Whether remote or in-person, everyone wants to feel important. When they do, productivity tends to gain even more traction.