The pandemic ushered in a new era, with workers handling their job duties from home. Will they want to come back to the workplace?
Foremost among the questions raised by Covid’s slide into a no-end-in-sight pandemic is this: How can people be motivated to again work away from home?
The problem of finding workers stems not just from a (perhaps) temporary contraction of the labor force. Plenty of people are applying for jobs. The shortage is in the number of qualified, experienced people willing to work on pre-Covid terms, which are less attractive today than before March 2020.
After nearly two years of working remotely, many people don’t want to return to the workplace, and if their employer requires it, even part-time, they’ll look for a position that offers more freedom.
Supervision & Self-Starters
To attract and keep top performers — people who can produce good results from home with little supervision (i.e., free agents who can demand what they want) — employers have to offer more money, freedom and responsibility. They must also provide clear direction on things like key performance indicators and core areas of focus. Yet they must also resist the temptation to hire people who require unaffordable levels of money or freedom.
People who work independently need to be not merely self-starters, but self-managers and self-finishers flexible enough to shift and change as required. They also need a heap of common sense — to know the right things to do and say, and how to engage with people.
Managers have to learn what remote employees need to be productive. Self-starters and -finishers need nothing. Others will need some hand holding.
Three Things — Hiring Mindset, Screening & Vetting, Employment Brand
In today’s world, three things are necessary. First, a change in hiring managers’ mindset about the kinds of work can be done remotely as well as the need to accommodate the requirements of the highly qualified people who can handle the job.
No. 2 is to carefully screen, vet and evaluate job applicants — because if the fit is poor, neither employer nor employee gets what they need.
No. 3 is an employment brand that can attract and keep the employees a company needs. “Stay interviews” — What keeps you here? — can help. Then, in seeking new hires, apply what’s learned about how your employment brand is perceived. Harness the power of smart to attract smart … hard-working to attract hard-working. And use your employment brand characteristics to identify misfits before they degrade the workforce. Keeping poor performers encourages more poor performance. People generally aspire to fit in, not excel. Let inappropriate role models go.
Core Values Are Central — How People Work and Behave
Core values are critical. It’s not mission statement ideals I have in mind. It’s down-to-earth behaviors like How we treat each other. How we expect work to be done. How we interact with colleagues and clients.
An underdeveloped work ethic is part of what plagues managers. Not everyone understands they’re paid to do a job and take responsibility for the quality of their work. Good behavior is checking in with yourself on Wednesday and realizing “I’m halfway toward the week’s goal;” bad behavior is getting to Friday and thinking, “Don’t know what I did this week, but it’s not what I promised.” Or worse, not even perceiving it as a promise.
Bad behaviors metastasize, affecting not just employers but co-workers, some of whom will one day be unemployable because millennial managers can’t tolerate bad habits. Now buying houses and having kids, these managers need their jobs and are focused on the bottom line as never before.
Moreover, in the Covid era, most managers are challenged to sense how remote employees are doing. The Zoom screen makes a sad face or lines under someone’s eyes hard to notice, so they can’t offer support as readily as before.
Harnessing Zoom for Management Support
The best-managed companies rely on frequent meetings. In the hybrid/remote era, some companies do daily five-minute huddles where everyone says what they’ve gotten complete yesterday and what they’re committed to get done today. Others do a Monday morning kickoff and mid-week check-in: Where are you? Where do you need support? At the end of the week: This is what we accomplished. This is where we’d like acknowledgment. Here’s where we need coaching.
Another approach is a semimonthly Zoom call, all-hands or by department. Some CEOs do videos. Then there’s cascading messaging — CEO to direct reports, those people to their direct reports and on down the line so everyone gets the same message. One-on-ones are also more frequent; so are open forums, cross-functional team feedback sessions and focus group sessions.
Whatever the format or frequency, in all these ways management is asking What support do you need from us to be more productive? It’s all meant to make remote work work.
The Peril of Assumptions
Assumptions are always hazardous, all the more so in remote work. I assumed Mort was handling it and didn’t realize for weeks that he wasn’t. And he assumed I was. Think a colleague knows how to do a certain job? Maybe not. And don’t assume everybody has the same capacity for work. Some people can handle a mountain of work; others can’t. But the person with lower capacity might work more accurately. High production and high quality don’t always — even often — go together. One size never fits all.
While business needs can’t always be modified, they can be divvied up and assigned to those who do each one best. Rule of thumb: assign each task to the one who can do it with the least supervision.
Think of Remote Employees as CEOs of Their Own Day
For remote work to succeed, employees have to be viewed and trusted as the CEOs of their own day, accountable for results. Non-producers can be coached and, if necessary, put on warning and let go.
This demands a mindset opposite to that of organizations that monitor remote computers to keep employees from surfing the net while on the clock. “Gestapo management” likely pushes good employees out the door.
As these observations make clear, there’s more than one way to motivate — and demotivate — employees in the current environment. Good luck!