Five ways to build trust when your employees are working from home

If you have had to introduce working from home procedures this year to your business, you are now also potentially facing the next hurdle: performance management.

With the change to remote working needing to be uncomfortably quick, working-from-home arrangements are unchartered territory for the majority of businesses accustomed to working face-to-face.

As the business owner or manager, you now find yourself leading employees who are out of sight but not out of mind.

Consequently, trust has become even more important to the employer-employee relationship.

So, why are business owners struggling to trust their employees?

It all comes down to adaptation.

Your standard way of working may have been completely uprooted, but your performance metrics remain unchanged. You can no longer have casual around-the-office chats to check in with your team and assess how their work is going.

Some business owners have seen micromanaging as the only solution to this, leaving employees feeling as if they are not trusted and are being controlled more than they were on site.

The other aspect to our current situation is that while remote working arrangements may be only temporary, employees are warming to this mode of work and might prefer it on a more permanent basis. What this also means is that it is likely the next generation of workers will expect more flexible work arrangements on the upswing post-COVID-19.

This leads to three questions:

1.     How do you continue to get things done without face-to-face contact?

2.     How can you foster a sense of trust with your employees?

3.     And what can you do as a business owner to measure productivity without it being a controlling behaviour?

The solutions are not as difficult as you might think!

1. Practise positive assumptions

Most people want to do the right thing, so avoid negative comments (even in jest) about how ‘easy’ it is to work from home.

Remember, each employee’s office is now their home. Wellbeing is more important to them than productivity right now, so demonstrate empathy in your leadership. Everyone is struggling in their own way: negative comments will demotivate your team.

Uplift your people and convey a sense of understanding.

2. Consistent communications

Employees do not want to be bombarded constantly with messages throughout their working day, but neither do they want to be forgotten.

Regular check-ins with your team help maintain your oversight over productivity while allowing you to connect with your employees on a human level. Ask how their mental health is holding up and offer your support for any professional difficulties they may have. Some won’t open up easily about this, so even if you detect that something may be slightly amiss with one of your team, follow this up separately – don’t wait for them to come to you.

The frequency of these check-ins depends on the size and structure of your business. You may benefit from daily check-ins or a catch-up twice a week might be more appropriate.

The important thing is to strongly encourage attendance and schedule these meetings during family-friendly times.

3. Structure meetings

A thoughtful meeting is a productive meeting, so structure is important!

Treating everyone’s time with respect ensures your employees know you see them as more than just links in the work chain, which you can do in numerous ways. Allowing some casual conversation during Zoom meetings, just as you might in face-to-face meetings at the office, adds a human dimension, as does the occasional social Zoom to round out the week on a Friday afternoon.

Structure video meetings to optimise time and allow every individual to have their chance to contribute. Keep agendas simple and inclusive; avoid lengthy discussions about issues that only affect a few.

Engage with your team on a meaningful level by encouraging team members to share their challenges and achievements so that your team sees meetings as more than just an obligation.

4. Draft a ‘work from home’ policy for now and the future

Once you have your practical employee-facing tactics in place, turn your focus to a management-level approach.

By drafting a current, formal work-from-home policy, you will clarify parameters and expectations, solidifying arrangements and providing some stability for your workers.

You will also give the impression that you are willing to embrace flexible working into the future.

This is a great opportunity to directly engage with your team and get their feedback on the policy, while also involving your HR representative.

5. Manage the outliers

No matter how committed you are to empowering and supporting your employees, there is always the chance someone will take advantage of flexible working arrangements.

While you should seek to emphasise the flexibility that comes with remote working, this should be paired with clarifying the responsibilities of your team.

If you need to manage any ‘outliers’ who aren’t able to work within the parameters you’ve set out, an upfront, private conversation will dismiss any grey areas and uncover issues.

By being proactive, rather than reactive, and continuing to encourage your team to be its best even under altered working conditions, you will further foster a positive and fruitful work culture.