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By Henk Olivier, MD of Ozone Information Technology Distribution

Working from home is still very much alive. Lockdown levels remain tight, companies remain cautious, and employees are still clinging to kitchen tables and home offices rather than brave the pandemic. For many small companies, the work from home (WFH) move was a huge shift in thinking. Some found it revelatory, others found it an admin nightmare, others were torn between the two. The success or failure of the remote working side of the business depending entirely on the mood and capabilities of the employees.

The truth is that not all employees can be trusted in the same way, nor can they all be managed in the same way. Some will find it hugely offensive to be micro-managed with endless video calls, checklists and check-ins. Others need the consistent contact to feel part of the business and motivated to keep going. You can’t treat all people the same way. You equally can’t regress to the creaking old methodologies of people management as they just don’t translate in the modern environment. Constant contact only slows people down or annoys them so much they leave. Neither is a good outcome.

These problems have become increasingly apparent over the past few months of lockdown. Especially now, as the weeks extend into months and the timing of returning to the ‘new normal’ becomes increasingly uncertain. The mood has shifted from coping in the now to struggling with motivation and commitment for the foreseeable future. This is why it has become imperative that leaders focus on reducing stress, improving engagement and giving employees the space they need to thrive in remote environments.

Invest into tools and technologies that are designed to support employees and help managers to track their progress. These tools are not overly complex and, if introduced and used properly, are useful for all employees across all levels of the organisation. What’s important is to communicate why you have invested into this technology and how you plan to use it. If people feel that this is being done to support their working needs, then they will be more inclined to use it. If they think it’s there to watch their every move, then it won’t work.

This ties into another important step – communicate everything clearly. If you didn’t make it clear at the beginning of lockdown how you would measure performance or deliverables, do it now. People need to know how you will be managing them and what they need to look out for. And never approach an individual about their performance in a team setting, this will only make them worse. Talk to the problem people individually and give them a path to follow that allows them to show improvement and commitment. This will also help highlight any issues they may be having at the same time.

Have the same standard for everyone and treat people with shared respect. This will help build morale and make people more inclined to share concerns they may have. Sometimes people won’t admit to not knowing how to use something and, after three months in lockdown, are not going to admit it now. Invest into training and skills development programmes that allow people to explore the solutions you’ve implemented and allow people to make mistakes. It’s a time of change for everyone, but those companies that can engage their people as leaders within this change will genuinely thrive in the months ahead because they’ve helped to cut the stress with a communicative and open company culture.