During the first half of 2021, about 65% of workers were either fully remote or working in a hybrid arrangement. This increase in remote and hybrid work has had a major impact on everyone in the workplace, but the adjustment has been especially challenging for managers.
In our recent survey, People Leaders and the Gap in Managing Employee Issues, we found that 65% of people leaders find it difficult to manage employee issues in a remote setting. Helping managers overcome challenges, including limited face time with staff and the lack of proper tools, will require strong leadership from HR and employee relations (ER) professionals. Let’s take a closer look at some of the struggles managers are currently facing and ways that HR/ER professionals can help.
- It’s harder to determine engagement levels and make sure employees are okay offsite. Managers who were used to daily face-to-face interactions with employees are finding it harder to tell if employees are engaged in their work and handling any personal issues appropriately in a remote setting. Even after more than a year of working remotely, it’s still an adjustment for many of us. HR can help them make the shift.Encourage managers to do more frequent check-ins with their direct reports and provide them with new techniques to express empathy and build trust. A good starting place is providing a list of questions they can ask their employees during 1-on-1s to go deeper than just “How are things going?”. Questions like, “How are you feeling about your current bandwidth?”, can result in a more detailed and productive discussion with team members. Another great tactic for managers is to lead by example and share their personal challenges with engagement, offering advice on how they’ve overcome any roadblocks.
- The old ways of assessing employee productivity no longer work. When everyone was under the same roof, it was easy for managers to check on employees and make sure they were spending their time productively. In the remote and hybrid environments, it’s not as simple. Managers can’t, and don’t need to, monitor their employees all day. A major shift in mindset needs to take place if leaders are still pushing to know how employees spend every working moment.
Implementing an outcomes-focused approach to management can help people leaders let go of old-school “big brother” methods. In a modern, flexible workplace, managers can focus more on making sure employees achieve expected results and meet commitments –– and less on the number of hours worked and time spent on specific tasks.
- Conflict resolution and harassment are more challenging to identify and handle. Disputes between coworkers that negatively affect productivity can be harder to spot in a remote setting. Serious issues like workplace harassment also look different or may go unreported, so managers need new methods and tools to handle these situations effectively, and employees need assurance that they’ll be heard if they were to raise concerns.
Conflict and harassment still occur online and can be witnessed by others. HR and ER can empower managers handling these issues by helping them to build a culture of trust where employees feel safe coming forward, knowing that they’ll be treated fairly.
Consistent and streamlined investigation documentation tools are also critical. Ideally these tools will include both guidance on when to escalate issues to the HR and ER teams and insights into any past history of incidents, which only 8% of managers say they have.
Updated training on what employee issues look like in hybrid work will also help managers to be aware of what to look out for with their employees. Managers who are better trained and equipped instill trust in employees and trust in the company as a whole with employees.
Understandably, employees want respect. They want to be treated fairly, and they demand transparent processes. When you help managers create a transparent, respectful workplace, employees will respond with more openness, coming forward with issues when needed.
We can’t go back to the old way of managing employees, but we can give managers the tools they need to make remote and hybrid work arrangements successful and to maintain a safe and open workplace. Hybrid work is an opportunity — for employees, managers and the company. With the right training and tools, people leaders can learn to focus on results instead of control. They can spot and document issues, ask for help when appropriate and gain confidence in their ability to handle whatever comes up, even if workers are offsite. At the end of the day, it takes collaboration on all fronts to address our new workplace reality.