The success of remote work depends on mutual trust and open communication between employees and employers.
Working from home (WFH) is part of the new normal. Even before circuit-breaker measures were implemented from April 7 2020, many organisations, SKM included, had already started telecommuting.
Despite having started WFH arrangements in advance, the shift to full-time remote work posed several challenges for our 20-strong team.
First, there was a drop in interpersonal contact. In an office environment, there are many subtle interactions that go unnoticed—a kind word, a shared joke, a passing comment—that help build relationships. Now that all our meetings are scheduled and on screens, that interactivity is gone.
While technology still enables us to meet virtually, face-to-face communication is still more effective, especially when building relationships is key to our work.
Second, home-based learning (HBL) means that parents now have to juggle work and caring for children at home. This is especially difficult for staff with young children, who have to accommodate their schedules to work productively.
Both these factors, a reduction of face-to-face interactions and an increase in home distractions, have made it a challenge to encourage synergy and kinship—core values of SKM.
Experts have predicted that working from home may be the future, even after Covid-19 fades. Companies are becoming more flexible in employees’ work arrangements, allowing staggered hours and telecommuting, for example—and Covid-19 has accelerated this transition.
Mutual trust and understanding
However, the success of remote work depends heavily on mutual trust and understanding between employees and employers.
In Stephen M.R. Covey’s book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, argues that trust increases speed and thus lowers costs in businesses. It is especially important for businesses to cultivate societal trust by contributing to the public sphere, he says.
But before cultivating trust outside the organisation, we first have to trust those within. And in this challenging situation, we need to trust that our staff will do what it takes to deliver.
Trust governs how people work together, listen to one another, and build relationships. When there is trust, collaboration and knowledge sharing is high, communication flows easily, and there is a sense of shared purpose and commitment.
On the other hand, when trust is lacking, cynicism grows, micromanagement creeps in, conflict abounds, leading to low morale and poor results.
Communicate Openly and Regularly
To build trust, we need to communicate openly and regularly. With everyone working in isolation, it is easy to give insufficient context for teammates to understand what you need. Keeping teammates in the loop helps to prevent misunderstandings.
Have regular video conferences to update each other about projects or to catch up. Don’t just talk shop. Ask how others are feeling and share your feelings as well.
Video calls, as opposed to voice calls, give the added benefit of body language cues and facial expressions, not to mention interesting glimpses into your colleagues’ homes! This small but cosy touch can help team members connect on a more personal level.
Last week, I initiated an SKM family telemeet to check in and find out how everyone was doing. It was good to see teammates sharing about how they have adjusted to working from home—some set up makeshift workspaces, others created a board to remind them of daily tasks. We didn’t just talk about work, we shared about our experiences and thoughts on Covid-19, and how each of us, in our own ways, can spread kindness in this pandemic.
Foster inclusivity. Being “in the know” makes team members feel valued and included. It can be easy for cliques to form among departments. Ensure a common source of knowledge—shared drives and meeting notes help keep communication and knowledge lines transparent.
Set Clear Goals
Be it leading a team, delegating a task, or working with colleagues on a shared goal, being clear on the deliverables—why they are important, the timelines, budget, and other specifications—is important from the get-go.
Having clearly agreed upon goals paves the way for building trust because it gives employees the freedom and autonomy to work out how best to deliver. At the same time, it allows you (as a manager or leader) to check in to see if they need any help. This approach helps develop responsibility, integrity, and creativity within your team.
Where there is trust and good communication, professional competence and personal character come together. This allows us to develop confidence in each other to follow through on our intentions.
While all of us adjust to remote work while dealing with a pandemic in our own unique living situations, let’s be kind to ourselves and our staff members. Show understanding, and you will realise that employees reciprocate this kindness by delivering on their tasks, even going the extra mile for you and the organisation to achieve better results.
Dr William Wan is a Justice of the Peace and General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). He was a senior partner of a regional law firm and a managing director of a psychometric company headquartered in the USA.
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