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The importance of empathetic communication in the future hybrid model of remote work

By Phil Allen

Posted 16/02/2021

Phil Allen, Client Director of Practice Room Online, explores this fascinating workplace development.

For the vast majority of educated white-collar workers, 2020 will be seen as a watershed year that fundamentally changed our relationship with our employers and the workplace forever. UnileverTwitterGoogle are just the high-profile companies that have announced that they are permanently changing the way people work across their global footprint. 5-days a week in the office is out; what comes in is still embryonic, but the change is here to stay. 

For leaders this means a complete change in the way we manage and engage with our people. For those companies that do not feel the need to introduce surveillance software, the role of the manager as monitor, connector, motivator and problem-solver is going to become much more significant. How managers and leaders communicate with their remote teams will become even more of a key defining feature of a company’s culture and therefore its success. And there have been some recent examples of where it’s clear that managers have got it very wrong.  

Communication has always been a vital skill of managers, but do the new ways of working make it even more important? 

recent (post-Covid) poll of 3,500 UK professionals, conducted by City & Guilds, found that more than two-thirds of those polled (68 per cent) said people management was a key skill managers or business leaders needed; however, 45 per cent said their own managers needed to improve on this. Similarly, 48 per cent said communication was an important skill, with 39 per cent needing to work on this skill.  

Why might these conversations we have with our team be even more important in a remote-working and hybrid-working future?  

 I think there are three key reasons why our leaders need to up their communication game. 

We  communicate to engage. Some companies’ internal comms teams have spent a lot of time and effort seeking to engage home-workers with the business with branded mugs, water bottles, mousemats and the like. But whilst these physical reminders of who you work for can have a small impact, the biggest feeling of engagement with a business, comes from engaging with our managers and leaders 

The tone that is set in these communications will have a huge impact upon how we feel about the organisation, our boss and the job we do. Do we feel connected? Supported? Empathised with? Acknowledged? Respected? Businesses used to try to connect and engage their Millennials with a barista and a pool table, if businesses can’t engage with them virtually, they will find a business that does. 

We communicate to inform. Understanding the unwritten rules of a business culture takes time even when you are in the office; at a distance it is going to be nigh-on impossible, without significant effort. Leaders must be able to communicate the norms, the expectations and the culture of their business through words and observable actions at a distance. This is difficult; it’s new. We used to rely on the coffee line conversations, the chats on the comfortable seats, the pictures and words on the walls. Now we have to do this through our own words and our own voice. And we have to get it right 

We communicate to give feedback and praise. It has long been the case that managers have not been very good at giving feedback and praise. They shy away from it, miss the opportunity, procrastinate over it, or leave it to the annual appraisal (6 months after the event!). What’s going to happen now we have to book a Zoom call to do it? 

When we are working at a distance, feedback and praise are going to become even more important management tools. Those managers that can do this well will have teams who understand what is expected of them, when they are achieving it and when they are not. Those teams will outperform ones where this is not happening. Those businesses who can develop their managers to be expert givers-of-feedback will outperform their rivals. No longer is this the preserve of HR trying to create a “culture of feedback”, in 2021 and beyond this is a competitive advantage. 

One final point on feedback, there are lots of apps and technological tools that say things like they can “streamline your feedback processes and create that two-way feedback process through simple 5-star ratings.” I’m sorry, but your people are not products on Amazon. They do not need online 5-star reviews. They need their manager and their colleagues to talk to them face-to-face – we are still human! 

If you want to ensure your business’s competitive advantage, ask us how we are helping managers to have better performance and development conversations in just one hour 

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