The current health crisis has caused many organizations to send people home to work. Your business still needs to run and you’re trying to do your part for public health. That’s great. But it may be making some of you itchy.

Not all jobs are appropriate for remote work – if I’m the security guard, I pretty much have to be on site. You’ll know the difference.

If the current situation is forcing this issue, or your ongoing distributed workforce efforts haven’t worked as well, read on. You can get great performance regardless of the location of the employee doing the work, so long as the job can be done away from the office.

CEOs, do you know how your managers deal with this? I’ve seen some questionable tactics, mainly related to treating people like children who have to be watched every second. If the people working in your organization need to be watched, and can’t be trusted, why do you have them? Even bigger, why aren’t your managers dealing with it? What are the managers doing? Following are 5 practical actions you and your managers can take right now, today.

  1. Set expectations for “presence.” If employees are expected to be available to internal or external stakeholders during certain hours, define that. If they are to be present for video conference meetings, be clear about this. Have them show up on video. Why? Not to prove they are there, but because we’re having a meeting and we need to see each other! It’s a professional work day, everyone should be ready to work and presentable for a meeting. If they need to be available for phone calls, responsive to emails, etc., just like when in the office, let them know. If they do work that doesn’t involve anyone else, and it doesn’t really matter when they do their work, please don’t fuss about them being “on” during certain hours and see #3.
  2. Facilitate meetings properly. Please. A good meeting has a purpose and desired outcomes, agenda items that include the process by which the participants will engage, the right people to do the work of the meeting, and a facilitator to help the participants reach the desired outcomes. You want to get work done, make decisions, plan projects? Get the right people in the room (in person or virtual) and make those meetings productive. If the whole meeting is the boss talking and running a slide deck, it’s no wonder people shut off the video and check their email. And my personal request is to never have people “sit in.” If you’re there, you’re participating. Brainstorming and group decision making are two excellent facilitation tools for this. For example, you could call your managers together today; ask them to come prepared with three ideas to keep employees engaged and productive during the current situation. In the meeting you set the structure for brainstorming, telling participants they’ll go in the same order each time, giving one idea per person per turn. You record their ideas exactly as said. There is no cross talk, no agreeing/disagreeing, and no discussion along the way. It goes as fast as possible for 8 minutes. Then you have a list of probably 20+ ideas. You can work together to choose the most workable ones. Boom, a good use of time.
  3. Define what “good” looks like. You need to do this anyway, but it’s especially critical when people are working elsewhere. Managers often resort to using numbers to define good work; “Make 142 phone calls today.” Who cares? So I made 142, so what? What is the purpose and desired outcome of those calls? What’s really important to measure? Not the number in this case, that’s just busy work. So what does good look like for the people working away from the office? I could give 1,000 examples (and would be glad to talk with you about setting goals and expectations, just give me a call if you want), but more important is, what results are you paying people to get? That’s different than checking off a bunch of tasks. This is what people need to know whether they work in the office or out.
  4. State expectations for keeping others (and the boss) informed. Let people know what, when, and how you need to be kept in the loop. Sure, you can tell people to cc you on every email but that’s not a good use of your time, is it? (And it is kind of micromanagey.) If you’d like a summary of accomplishments (not a litany of tasks checked off), ask for it. If you want bullet points or paragraphs, say so. If you want hourly reports, question that – are you worried that people will be watching Netflix all day on your dime? If this is a valid concern about an underperforming employee, see #5. If this is a reliable, contributing employee, think twice before assuming they are taking advantage of you.
  5. Give ongoing positive and negative performance feedback. This needs to be done anyway, but few managers actually do it. They wait until told by HR to have a review (usually quarterly, half-yearly, or annually), but all kinds of performance is happening all year. When you have really good employees, they should be acknowledged for that in some way as a regular practice. If you have underperforming employees, they should be alerted to the problems you’re seeing and have the chance to fix it. (I can show you how to do this or send you a guide.) If an underperforming employee is now working at home, their performance deficiencies simply make you more itchy than they did when working under your view. Don’t play games, just give feedback and do problem solving.

I love a good mess. Problem solving is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Almost always the problem is related to a conversation we aren’t having and I can help you with that. Connect with me on LinkedIn or call me at 831-588-6191.

PC: Andrew Neel for UnSplash