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Time to talk

19th May 2020
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Why line managers and employees need to stay in touch while working remotely

The events of the last few months have left the best laid plans in tatters. Nothing is quite the same as it was at the start of the year. Many industries have been devasted and the economic forecast is bleak to say the least. I know many of the ambitions we have for Appraisd have changed or been temporarily abandoned.

Around 60% of the UK workforce is now working from home and it looks like many we will stay there for some time to come. This week Twitter announced that its offices won’t reopen until September at the earliest and that employees will be given the option to work from home “forever.” A survey with HR practitioners this week also found that 70% would like to work from home permanently[1]. The way we work looks set to change radically.

Remote working has many advantages – no long and draining commute, greater flexibility over hours, employees can be based anywhere – but there are some downsides too. More than half of the UK workforce say they are feeling lonely[2]. Going from a busy office to the solitude of working at home can be difficult to cope with, especially now with those who live alone seeing no one else on a regular basis. So, what should we be doing now?

Communication is vital

Regular and useful communication is vital to keep remote workers feeling connected to the business and their colleagues. Communication between line managers and their direct reports is especially crucial. The most important and influential relationship at work for any employee is with their line manager. The better and stronger this is, the more likely the employee is to be engaged, motivated and loyal. When both parties are working apart from each other a constant, positive dialogue becomes a must.

Not enough conversations are happening

New research we conducted with Google Survey[3] highlighted some very worrying trends around how much line managers and their direct reports are currently talking. Employees report that their 1-2-1 time has dropped dramatically since they began working from home. 48% of employees who responded to the survey said they were having fewer 1-2-1s and almost four in ten (38%) said the frequency had fallen significantly. Only 17% of employees said the frequency of their 1-2-1s had increased at all since they had been working from home.

Employees were also asked if their line manager was checking in regularly with them to see how they were coping with the current situation. While 44% said their line manager was in touch with them frequently, 27% said their manager wasn’t. One in five said their line manager hadn’t been in contact with them hardly at all. These employees are in danger of feeling abandoned and are unlikely to be performing to their full potential.


Time to show support

As someone managing a remote workforce myself, I know the importance of keeping in touch and providing clear guidance and direction. On a personal level, I’ve made time to check in with employees even more than usual to ensure that they are coping and know exactly what they should be prioritising. It’s easy to feel disorientated and cut adrift from the rest of the team because so much has changed and it’s more important than ever to be setting relevant and attainable goals. This is what will help employees stay focused and have a clear idea of what they are working towards.

With so many stories in the press about the effect of lockdown on mental health, regular check-ins take on an even greater significance. Line managers are in the perfect position to notice if their employees are feeling the strain and need extra support. These conversations allow the alarm to be raised at an early stage, hopefully before the situation spirals out of control. I’m very concerned that so many employees are missing out on these 1-2-1s and could be suffering in silence.

Line managers struggling to cope

These results could also indicate that line managers are struggling to do everything that is required of them and it’s their managerial duties that are slipping. Many have no previous experience of managing a remote workforce, and they may lack the skills, tools, and infrastructure to be able to do so effectively.

After all, they too are having to come to terms with a whole new working environment, which could involve the extra challenge of working around their family while dealing with pressure from senior managers to make rapid changes. It’s vital that HR teams work with their line managers to give them the tools and support they need to effectively manage their teams while working remotely so their mental health doesn’t suffer either.

What we’ve found incredibly helpful internally at Appraisd is using a simple form that we’ve created to support line managers with their remote check-ins. It provides a structure to make these conversations easier and consistent across the company. These conversations only need to take a few minutes and go over what an employee is working on, what is going well and what could be working better. We found that also conducting these over video helps to improve the quality of the conversation and strengthens the connection between colleagues.

Now is the time to talk, let’s make it happen!

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