Thank you to everyone who is going to work every day to help ensure facilities are sanitized, trash is removed, ill people are cared-for, meals are prepared, supplies are shipped and distributed, emergencies are responded to, and crises are managed. I do not pretend to know all of the work environments who are keeping any sense of normalcy for those of us who do not work in your industry. But I recognize that the unsung, unheralded, and underappreciated heroes are making daily life possible.
Other folks finding their way are newly working from home. There are a lot of great tips for you to be reasonably productive while you’re finding your way holding down multiple jobs as a full-time remote employee and full-time stay-at-home parent and full-time teacher, and so on. These changes are enormous, possibly frustrating, and certainly putting a focus on our general appreciation for how our daily lives usually go relatively well.
Those newly working from home are still in need of quality supervision. One may be tempted to assume that people will not be as productive from home. Plenty of articles indicate the opposite stating that those who work from home are very productive. But it does stand to reason that people who didn’t elect to work remotely will have more difficulty making the transition mentally as well as physically (not everyone has a “spare” room to convert to a home office, even temporarily).
So, boss, what do you do with this information? Focus on what makes a good supervisor in a traditional environment:
Empathy and Compassion
Challenge and Support
Now that you and your employees are no longer in physical proximity, what has changed? Is it your vision, integrity, passion, trust, empathy, or support? Hopefully not. The difference is the method in which you demonstrate these things.
This is where your strengths in numbers 4, 5, and 6 can really shine.
4. Empathy and Compassion – Remote work is likely new for you and your employees. You’re going to make mistakes so say so up front and ask for grace in advance. That sets the stage for your employees understanding that their errors can exist, be remediated, and move on. If your employee is under-performing compared to their usual, first consider why without even asking. Deploy your empathy to imaging what they’re going through without asking pointed questions regarding missed deadlines or work that does not meet their usual standards. While underperforming can’t go on forever, a lot of grace can help you retain a quality colleague and help them continue to develop their passion and loyalty to the organization.
5. Trust – Checking-in to see how someone is doing is good. Checking-in to make sure they’re working is not. If you wouldn’t hover in the office, do not start now. If you do hover in the office, please, let’s chat. Trust that your employees are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. It may be the case that their best doesn’t meet their usual. You know it, they know it, no need to beat them up with it. Acknowledge it, move deadlines whenever possible, remove work requirements if needed to ensure the most necessary work gets done in the required timeline.
6. Challenge and Support – Perhaps, for now, reverse this: Support and Challenge. Exercise your best empathy, compassion, flexibility, and understanding through the adjustment period. When the time comes to discuss possible new opportunities or if the quality of work is not yet meeting expectations, keep a healthy dose of empathy to work through the next steps. Openly recognize that work will be come more demanding as the novelty of remote working wears off. Then engage your employee in a genuine conversation about how you can support them through the next project, deadline, etc. It is okay to ask about their environment just like you would in the office: workspace, distractions, ability to take a little down time, etc. Your ability to directly influence these may not be strong, but the conversation might spark some ideas for your employee and it again shows you have the employee’s best interests in mind.
There is no question the current work model of people working from home is new and will experience growing pains. It might highlight opportunities to allow people to be more flexible with their work schedules and locations to allow for more satisfied, engaged, and productive employees. Others will find relief when they can return to their normal work life and that is perfectly fine, too. No matter how this shakes out, we will all have learned something about ourselves, each other, managing crises, and maintaining a version of normalcy to support a compassionate and empathetic workplace.