Learning to Trust Your Remote Employees: 7 Routines That Help

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Let’s face it: COVID-19 has changed the relationship between offices and knowledge workers forever. Companies that think they’re going to force employees to revert to pre-pandemic work arrangements really need to think again.

Of course, an employer can choose to be heavy-handed and reinstate mandatory office attendance — but those that do will experience a lot more turnover. And if your organization does experience a resurgence in office attendance, you shouldn’t expect that period to be productive.

Why? After a long time away, employees will mainly head to the office to reconnect with the coworkers they have missed. So, ironically, the office is going to serve as a distraction as things reopen.

What Use Is an Office After the Pandemic?

Moving forward, three primary use cases will drive the use of the office:

  • Onboarding new employees: Managers may want to spend time with their new employees in person to get them acclimated.
  • Team projects: Teams working on collaborative projects will still want to meet in person for efficiency.
  • Meeting with outsiders:Meetings with candidates, partners, customers, and vendors will still be done in person from time to time, and the office will be the venue.

As mentioned above, some people enjoy coming to the office because it meets their personal social needs. However, it’s unlikely this will last in the long term. Instead, employees will start prioritizing their relationships outside of the office. Working from allowed many employees to spend more time with their loved ones, and about 33 percent of Americans even reported the pandemic was actually good for their relationships. So, it’s likely that employees will no longer need to get their social interactions from an office environment.

Trusting Your Employees in a Virtual World

The shift to remote work has radically altered the employer/employee relationship. When people used to work in a shared location every day, it was much easier for company leaders and managers to build relationships with employees, gauge the consistency of their work, and ultimately come to trust them.

But as the office becomes more limited in use and remote work persists as the norm, employers must find new ways to learn to trust their employees. By helping employees establish and stick to a few new habits, employers can be confident in employee performance no matter where their workers are located.

Here are some routines I’ve established with my employees, which have proven effective for me:

1. Cameras on for All Meetings

Requiring that everyone turn their cameras on in meetings will help you better judge your employees’ professionalism and make connections with them. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video feed is worth a thousand words per second.

If an employee resists this policy, they’re opting to be less transparent. That may give you a reason to reconsider your trust in them.

If you want to implement this policy in your organization, make sure your employees are equipped with good cameras and proper lighting. This will be worth the investment.

2. Daily Zoom Stand-Ups

We start each day with a short meeting (on video, of course). This ensures employees are at least up, out of bed, and engaged at the start of the workday. If they are sleepy and disengaged, that could be a sign they are not holding up their end of the bargain.

3. Dress Codes

If working from home is the new norm, then a dress code at home is also totally appropriate for all employees. Company-branded polos or shirts are a great idea here. When meeting with people outside the company, ask employees to wear collared dress shirts or a business-casual equivalent.

4. Measure Deliverables — Not Hours

When employees work from home, you cannot measure success based on the number of hours worked. Instead, you can only measure what each employee produces.

Managers should establish estimates for deliverables and then measure employee performance against these estimates by asking: Is this employee consistently coming in under or over estimates? Are they offering to do more?

5. Measure Responsiveness

Responsiveness is key in a work-from-home environment. Responsive employees regularly check their emails and instant messages, showing they are engaged at work. Be sure to set expectations around communication and response times in the virtual workplace.

6. Encourage Employees to Take PTO

Employees who take their PTO establish boundaries for their work, which leads to a healthier work/life balance and a more productive employee. Taking PTO also exhibits responsibility, which helps you trust employees more.

7. Track Employees’ Attitudes and Work Quality

Regularly rating employees’ attitudes and quality of work — perhaps by assigning a letter grade of A-D — will also help establish trust. An employee with a good attitude and high work quality is more likely to do good work for the company. Grades do not need to be shared with employees but can be brought to their attention during performance reviews, if desired.

Learning to trust your remote employees is achievable, but it requires that you change the way you manage them. Design new norms for the virtual workplace, and then execute them.

Tony Zorc is a tech entrepreneur, founder of Accounting Seed, and the author ofIconoclasm: A Survival Guide in the Post-Pandemic Economy.

By Tony Zorc