How can I make sure my employees are really working from home?

This is one of the most common questions that I get in my coaching consulting practice. How can I make sure my employees are really working from home? How do I know they aren’t messing with their children or doing laundry or cleaning out the refrigerator? My answer is usually something along the lines of ‘well, are they getting the necessary work done?’ While this is a good enough answer, the topic does merit more discussion.

At the root of this question is trust. Somehow, it seems that people we once trusted when they were down the hall, are now called into question when they’re at home. The same people! Some of this lack of trust is merited.  During the scramble last Spring to somehow make work from home actually work, obligations were missed. When you combine this with general anxiety about the virus and the economy, technology difficulties, shifting office and home expectations, we can see why trust was eroded initially.

But why does it persist? Let’s dive deeper. In order to have trust in their colleagues, people need to believe two things.

First, they need to believe that others are competent, that they will deliver and that their delivery will be of high quality.

Second, they have to believe that their colleagues have good intentions, high integrity, and have the company’s best interests at heart.

For these beliefs to be present, people need to see what their colleagues are doing and why they are doing it. And they need to see that they will continue to do it. They need to see that they’re reliable. In a remote environment, there is less opportunity to see these things in action. This lack of evidence makes it difficult for trust to exist psychologically.

So, now that we know the issue, what do we do about it?  Chances are working remotely is not going away anytime soon, so how do we learn to live with it?

I’m going to start with what not to do, and that is monitoring. There is a trend out there to try to increase monitoring, either through technology, or through continual check ins. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. Any leader who thinks they can track all of their employee’s behaviors is deluding themselves. Not to mention the fact that people will naturally spend their time figuring out ways to beat the monitoring system. And on top of that, monitoring creates high stress and anxiety for the employees. A recent study showed that 49% of employees are experiencing more anxiety when monitoring technologies are put into place. This is certainly not something that is productive. It’s not something we want in our culture.

Now that we know monitoring doesn’t work, what does work? The good news is that psychology provides us some tools.

First, become trustworthy yourself. Research has consistently shown that the more that you trust somebody else, the more that they will trust you in return. So, turn this around and make it work for you as a leader. Develop your employees’ trust in you so that you will have the confidence that they will reciprocate.

The next thing to do is communicate often as leaders. We usually communicate when things are changing. We’re pretty good at that. Something new comes up, we let people know. But with the pace of change coming so fast, you also have to make sure that you communicate about things that aren’t changing. When you do this it reminds people there is stability.  Having this knowledge of stability goes a long way toward building trust.

Finally, recognize that everyone is different when it comes to trust. Some people tend to trust right away. They’re naturally trustworthy. Others need evidence.

The bottom line is that remote work isn’t going away anytime soon. And being able to build trusting relationships with your people will be crucial in the coming years. Put in the effort and you will gain more and more comfort with remote environment.