Recently, a client with a fully remote team came to us with a problem. Things had been humming along smoothly with reports of higher-than-average levels of engagement among the employees and then, suddenly it seemed, they hit a wall. After some digging, we discovered a common complaint. The company had recently instituted daily time tracking per project for its salaried employees - even the high performers- without an explanation for the change to their operating procedures. When surveyed, every single employee complained that they felt they were not trusted to use their time wisely and were micromanaged. The employees felt this was out of alignment with what the company said it valued - a high trust environment that enabled independent work. This misalignment between what leadership said was important and the story their actions were telling employees was causing friction and unrest in the workplace.
And it's not a rare problem. A recent New York Times article about remote work and trust focused on what happens when companies say that they value trust, but their monitoring and actions send a different message. According to a 2020 Gartner survey, 60% of organizations polled said they have tools that monitor their remote employees. In those organizations, nearly 40% of the employees felt their leadership didn't trust them, and in turn, 33% of employees did not trust their employer. It is sometimes necessary to track metrics for business purposes, but when and how you impose monitoring systems is important.
Before instituting tracking and monitoring systems for employees, make sure you have a business case that supports the need. Tracking employees for the sake of tracking them, to "check up on them," or "make sure they are working," sends a loud and clear message that you don't trust your employees. There are, however, some very good reasons to institute certain monitoring measures. For example, my client above was doing a deep dive into their pricing and needed solid stats on how much time each piece of a project was taking. The problem with their approach is that leadership didn't adequately communicate that the time tracking they were instituting had a business use, was temporary, and had nothing to do with trying to check in on employees.
If you have instituted time tracking or other types of monitoring in your company, make sure that you are using the results and metrics to reward increased productivity and a job well done. If you are using metrics to punish or check up on remote workers, they will quickly pick up on the disconnect between what is being said and what is actually happening. In addition to rewarding those who meet productivity goals with extra time off, more flexible work hours, etc., make sure remote employees know that their trustworthiness as a teammate isn't being called into question when you are tracking their time.
Before you jump headlong into monitoring systems for your employees, make sure that you have implemented a system of 1:1 check-ins between managers and employees. Employees that have an invested relationship with their leadership and feel they have an opportunity to be seen and heard, are more engaged and, ultimately, more productive. If remote employees are not meeting the company's expectations, make sure you have a discussion with them about their work and how they can improve. Doing this remotely might feel awkward at first but it is important that remote workers know what behaviors need to change in order for everyone to be successful. This could mean communicating more often or differently, being more responsive to feedback, or changing the way they work. Finding the right balance between trust and accountability is critical for remote workers, but it's also crucial for managers who are managing remote employees. It is important that remote workers know their trustworthiness as a teammate isn't being called into question when you are tracking their time or monitoring their work actions.
When employees know that the company trusts them to do good work for clients and show up on time without constant supervision, they will feel more engaged in their jobs which leads to higher levels of productivity. And better engagement means happier remote workers.
Contact the DETS team to discuss engagement strategies for your team. www.deependstrategies.com