From an abundance of communication to uninterrupted blocks of alone time, we all have certain ways we like to get things done. When everyone is in the office, it can be easy to identify an employee’s style by observing their behavior. With remote working arrangements, however, it can be harder to discern. When you’re a leader, it’s important to identify and understand your team members’ styles, says Ed McQuiston, executive vice president at the content services provider Hyland.
“Everybody works differently,” he says. “Some want to interact quite a bit, some prefer to be given work and then left to do it, and others fall somewhere in between.”
As a manager, don’t assume that what works best for you is the best practice for everyone, says Amanda Kowal Kenyon, partner and chief organizational effectiveness officer at the communications consulting firm Ketchum. “Flex your approach to accommodate your direct reports if you want to help them thrive and deliver their best work,” she says. “The easiest method is simply to ask them, and then experiment for a time-bound period.”
Identifying Remote Working Styles
Communication is more important than ever. The methods used to communicate from a distance can provide you with clues on how people prefer to interact. For example, you may have an employee who keeps their camera off during a videoconference.
“Leaders need to be in tune with that and have an instinct for what that person is saying through verbal and nonverbal actions,” says McQuiston. “In some ways, it’s like sitting in a room with someone who keeps their arms folded. When everyone is in an office, people manage their energy on their own. People can put their heads down and work all day, while some benefit from seeking out hallway conversations. Their unique needs could be managed on their own, but now they don’t have those same opportunities.”
Workplace preference assessments can provide additional richness for both conversations as well as experimenting with your colleagues’ desired ways of working. For example, Social Styles identifies four personality types, and Kowal Kenyon says they can give managers parameters on how to communicate and engage:
- Drivers like to keep it brief. “They want to get in, discuss results, keep it to essential business, and get on with it,” she says.
- Expressives like to talk and think aloud. “They will appreciate webcams or phone, value in-the-moment conversations over a lot of prework, and like to connect both personally and professionally,” says Kowal Kenyon.
- Amiables value relationship security and want to put their best foot forward with their manager. “They often appreciate agendas in advance and having time to think before speaking,” she says. “They, too, value face time on camera and want to have an unrushed conversation that includes both professional and personal connection.”
- Analytics value preparedness and having time to think in advance, often preferring written to verbal communications. “They may prefer nonwebcam interactions and appreciate agendas in advance, and the opportunity to offer thinking in writing after a conversation,” says Kowal Kenyon.
Find Other Opportunities for Engagement
For some employees who were used to a lot of interaction or travel, their workday is very different, and they may need more support. Understanding how much interaction an employee needs helps leaders know how much connection they need from afar.
“Leaders need to understand how to enable people to be successful in wildly different environments,” says McQuiston, adding that Hyland finds ways to provide opportunities for employees to volunteers. “Our people felt a strong pull to help others, not just professionally but personally. We enable our employees to do that outreach by helping fund supplies for creating PPE or by creating a virtual food drive. This allows employees to get that same sense of fulfillment and energy they can get when they’re in the office. That energy drove some people on the team to be good at what they did.”
Provide a lot of Feedback
Managers need to create persistent feedback and goals to help team members know how to perform and produce. To make sure you’re providing enough engagement, check in periodically with the employee and yourself.
“How well do they think it’s working for them?” asks Kowal Kenyon. “How well is it working for you as the manager? What adjustments could you try? Angles to consider include frequency, length of conversation, platform, such as phone or webcam, agenda, and prep. Of course, as a manager you can determine your must-haves for one-on-one check-ins, but strive to customize at least some of the discussion to your employee’s needs.”
Also look at the metrics, adds McQuiston. “In the sales world, for example, you look for drop-offs in calls, emails, and meetings,” he says. “This could indicate that an employee needs more engagement.”
Going forward, McQuiston expects a significant percentage of employees to continue to work from home, and he says leaders need to adapt. “How do you make this work best for employees, balancing their emotional needs with the productivity needs of the company?” he asks. “The onus is on leadership. Focusing on wellness and balance is what fuels productivity. If you ebb too far into focus, grind, and metrics, people will burn out. Today, it’s about meeting them where they’re at and engaging them in more ways.”