In our previous post, we looked at how the HBR article ‘Manage your energy, not your time’ from 2000 (Schwartz & McCarthy, February 2000), is surprisingly up to date. In the current WFA (Working from Anywhere) context, the advice on how to make your workday productive and satisfying is of key importance to both workers and team managers.
Let us now zoom in on what remote managers can do to help team members manage their energy better. Two major shifts have taken place for managers in how they manage their teams:
- Trust: managers need to move from a ‘control mode’ to a ‘trust mode’. In the ‘old’ world the focus was on control: checking whether employees are starting on time and focused on the task. This mode is still technically possible through computer tracking software, but we advise strongly against this type of ‘big brother’ software. Research shows (see part 1 of this post) that productivity of homeworkers is higher than office workers. Now, it is all about managing output (results) instead of input (time spent at the computer).
- Wellbeing of homeworkers. Experience shows that since the start of Covid, homeworkers’ physical and mental wellbeing are at risk. Managers have a new and unfamiliar responsibility of making sure their remote team members keep fit.
What can the remote manager do to support her or his remote team members to stay healthy?
On the company’s premises, the employer has full control over a healthy work environment: ergonomically sensible desks, chairs and working equipment. But also: temperature, air quality and what is on the lunch menu. The degree to which homeworkers can create a healthy home office environment differs enormously. Some may benefit from a light, airy and quiet space at home to work from, whilst others may have to work from a kitchen table and provide home schooling to children at the same time.
Some companies have allocated a budget for each employee working from home to invest in ergonomic office furniture. Others have contracted mobile ergonomic specialists, who visit employees’ home offices to give advice on creating a healthy working environment.
The tendency for home workers is to sit in the same position for too long, without proper breaks. Many of our clients complain about back-to-back meetings and have slipped into the habit of spending the time that used to go into the commute, on extra work behind the computer. Repetitive strain injury, neck and back aches and cardiovascular problems, are common consequences of prolonged sitting in the same position. Managers must encourage remote team members to adopt healthy work practices including micro, meso- and longer breaks. Also, they should make sure that workers take breaks for meals and to build exercise into their routines. In line with the title of this blog ‘Manage time, not energy’, managers can help the remote employee to identify his or her natural ‘low energy’ moments for the day. These can be allocated to physical exercise or household chores that involve movement. Working previously as L&D manager at Nike Europe, I was part of a culture where a typical workday includes an hour of jogging, tennis, or soccer at midday or in the early afternoon. The energy boost for the rest of the working day is remarkable.
Connection and sociability
At (collocated) work, social interaction occurs naturally. People have spontaneous conversations in offices, corridors, canteen, and coffee spaces. In a remote setting, these social interactions must be proactively managed. When this is done skilfully, a sense of ‘virtual closeness’ is created, where team members feel a strong sense of belonging and have meaningful working relationships with their peers. We have written numerous blogs on how to do this, such as this one: Relations means business (July 22, 2019)
More than before, managers need to ask employees on a regular basis how they are doing and feeling. The ‘I am fine’ response is simply not enough; the manager should probe deeper and enquire about the team member’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. And listen with full focus and concentration: active listening.
Fredrik Fogelberg is a chartered Organisational Psychologist specializing in leadership development and team facilitation in international organizations. He has over 30 years of international experience in the corporate world and as a consultant.