In recent months many articles have been written about the pros and cons of remote working. Microsoft have joined Twitter and Facebook by making the new normal a permanent option stating a “commitment to support individual work styles and business needs while living our culture" In addition, many firms are considering whether they any longer need the traditional office space they have so carefully designed over the past several years.
However, as we begin to understand some of the consequences of remote working, it is becoming clear that non-traditional working practices need non-traditional leadership solutions. In April we began our research into what was important to employees as they began to work remotely. Unsurprisingly, they told us that having the right equipment, health & safety assurances, clear work tasks, feeling cared for and regular video communication with peers and managers, ranked highly. As we progressed through the initial period of lock-down other considerations such as a plan for re-emerging from lock-down and a clear strategy for the future became more mentioned.
Some companies are now in their eighth month of full or partial remote working and only now are some of the bigger challenges emerging. Increasingly people are starting to resent the intrusion of work into their home lives; some even describing this as an ‘invasion of privacy’. The distinction between work and life is not so much about ‘balance’ anymore but ‘separation’. If my partner is also working from home and my kids are restricted from socialising with their friends, then where do I draw a line between my boss’s happy smiling face on the zoom call and my partner asking when I’ll help prepare the dinner. Whose decision is it to determine when I have access to the quiet space in the house to ‘attend’ a meeting and when my partner should have that same shared space. And if it’s the sixth on-line meeting in as many hours is it okay if I sit this one out and do something less monotonous for a while? As one employee said to us recently “If my work starts to intrude on my personal life, okay I get it, but please accept that I will take control of it”.
Managers in the future may need to re-think the definition of empowerment and not only empower decisions and tasks but also make ‘availability’ a decision for the individual to make. By making the individual responsible for the separation of her work and life in a cross-over world we will gain her respect and her engagement. How many employees would be comfortable saying to their boss that they were not available for a ‘quick’ call within ‘office’ hours because they had to help with home schooling a young child? This may be a higher or lower number dependent on the culture of the business, but in most organizations we work with, this is a very low percentage.
Responsible empowerment in the future will need discretion, tolerance and empathy, not just delegation, supervision and feedback and employee engagement considerations will need to be expanded to include the whole life of the person, not just their working life. Those that ignore this must prepare to lose their talented people, the problem this time is they will not see it coming…
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