Done correctly working remotely can increase your team’s productivity, but it also comes with inherent and unique challenges like lack of face-to-face information exchange, social isolation, and distractions at home — all examples pulled from HBR’s Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers. Compounded with organizational and financial disruptions caused by COVID-19, leaders and managers may be finding employee engagement has become even tougher.   

I’ve been discussing this topic with Samin Saadat (founder of Jalapeño Employee Engagement Solutions) over the past two weeks and find their focus on addressing systemic causes of a poor engagement or productivity instead of the ‘symptoms’ to be a refreshing and useful way of thinking. I asked Samin for advice on how to separate the two and she provided me with the following insights. 

From SaminManagers are typically focused on efficiency and generating solutions. Find a problem, fix it, move on to the next — they don’t want to waste resources and often feel the sooner the team arrives at a solution, the better. Solutions are simple answers to questions, and this is where pitfalls emerge. You can have 1000 possible answers but if you don’t know what the question is, or you are asking the wrong one, they are all useless

It’s important to realize that cause and effect are not always related to time and space. Many symptoms experienced in this new world of remote could have causes dating pre-pandemic, but changes to your physical workspace have exposed and highlighted them. Here is a hypothetical.  

Symptom: A new vision for the company was created based on the risks and opportunities of the pandemic, staff said they understood and agreed with it, but there has been a lack of accountability and engagement on their behalf

Assumption: Now that everyone is remote, information is not being disseminated properly, staff are slacking off without oversight, and being distracted at home.

Quick-fix solution (a.k.a. painkiller): Communicating the vision and expectations repeatedly, through various channels to ensure everyone is aware of the way forward.

Alternative Systematic Approach:  Ask yourself, your leadership, and your staff the following questions:  

  • What are the immediate assumptions we are making about this situation, have we validated them?  
  • To what extent were we experiencing symptoms of poor engagement and accountability before going remote?   
  • Did people get the right training with the new processes, technology, and tools when we shifted to remote?  
  • Have personal concerns been addressed?  How do we know?   
  • Where employees involved in crafting the new vision of the company? How?  

By challenging assumptions, forcing yourself to validate them, and asking questions that focus on causation, you as a manager can begin to identify the key ways in which you can solve the engagement issues.

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It’s attractive to address symptoms with “painkillers”, aka quick fixes that provide temporary relief, like rewards, cash incentives, and digital happy hours. These things may provide some uptick in behaviour or mood, but without addressing the cause (lack of connectivity to the team; lack of information/misinformation about role and company mission; etc) the negative symptoms will return. 

 

Further Reading 

 

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-Remy and the Teamit Team