This is a guest post by Vicky Oliver.
Remember the good old days of commuting to work in traffic, staring at cubicle walls all day and trying to avoid the office busybody? In the pre-pandemic world, working from home was a pipe dream. But now that you haven’t seen your coworkers for months, you feel a tinge of nostalgia — even for your quirky boss with the gruff personality.
Since the pandemic sent all nonessential employees home in mid-March, it is estimated that 25 to 30 percent of the workforce now works from home. If you are among them, you may have found that it can be difficult to strike a balance between your professional and personal lives. In particular, your boss may now know much more about your home life than before — and vice versa.
In the initial scramble to find your footing in the new world of remote work, you and your boss may have been forced to step in and step out of former follower and leader roles. Together, you and the other team members — and not the boss alone — worked out how to navigate new technology, set up new systems to track goals and figure out how to remain productive while doubling as caregiver. These unprecedented circumstances have blurred previously delineated boss-employee roles.
Now, timing for teleconference calls is based on naptime for the boss’s two-year-old. You forgot to hit mute during a Zoom conference when a fight erupted between your cranky — albeit neglected — children. And answering emails often happens in the wee hours of the night when family members are asleep.
It is essential in this work-from-home reality that you and the boss, along with the rest of the team, come to some new understandings about how work gets done. Here are some guidelines to consider:
1. Embrace flexibility.
Working remotely is no longer business as usual. Maybe you only have quiet moments in your household before the kids wake up. Then your attention has to shift to their schooling. But your boss’s kids are all grown and he’s still working on a 9-to-5 schedule. First off, don’t panic. Work together to establish which communication methods are best for contacting each other or particular team members, and within what time period you can expect a response. Staggered work schedules may be necessary for some members. By sharing the personal circumstances that you are up against, and knowing others’ circumstances, the team will be better able to navigate conflicting priorities.
To do if you’re the boss: Find out the team’s individual schedules.
To do if you’re a worker: Be honest about your situation at home.
2. Invite and expect feedback.
Working together virtually is a whole new world, and committing to giving and receiving constructive feedback can help it run more smoothly. Remote work lessens the feedback your boss may give you, along with other non-verbal cues that let you know if you are valued. Instead of wondering whether you are hitting your mark, feel free to ask outright — although it may be best to do so through email or in a scheduled call. This will give your boss time to gather her thoughts. Similarly, if you have suggestions or observations to offer that could help your boss better fulfill her role, be forthright in tactfully sharing them.
To do if you’re the boss: Give more feedback than you would have pre-COVID.
To do if you’re a worker: Tactfully ask for feedback, and if necessary, give it as well.
3. Realistically define duties and timelines.
When it comes to managing remotely, teams need clearly delineated tasks and timelines. As conflicting priorities are a concern for most people in this time of pandemic, be proactive about sharing realistic timelines for getting work done. Depending on a project’s urgency, it may be smart to set up daily or weekly check-ins using whichever form of communication works best for team members. As colleagues now have to switch back and forth between their family and their work roles, exercise patience when there’s an eleventh-hour request for clarification, but emphasize the importance of hitting deadlines and producing quality work.
To do if you’re the boss: Be clear about goals.
To do if you’re a worker: Be realistic about delivery dates.
4. Address issues of trust.
Pre-COVID, your boss may have been reluctant to offer a work-from-home option for fear you could not be trusted to stay on task while untethered. Now, with no choice in the matter, your boss is finally learning to trust that the work will get done. He is finding out that he can gauge your productivity on your results rather than your attendance. One positive outcome of this pandemic may be your boss’s realization that you can, in fact, be trusted to do what’s required without him hovering over you. Yes, micromanagement can still happen in a virtual world, but when you are allowed to work on your own time and still produce results, you prove to the boss that you are trustworthy. If you’re the boss, it’s time to loosen the reins. Trust in your people and their work product.
To do if you’re the boss: Trust your employees to get their work done.
To do if you’re a worker: Be sure to get your work done when you promised so your boss will trust you with bigger projects.
5. Champion transparency about company struggles and strategies.
As an employee whose livelihood is tied to the wellbeing of the company, it is all too easy to work yourself into a tizzy wondering whether that terse email means you are about to get the boot. Working remotely, you may worry that you are no longer privy to internal information on the company’s welfare. Meanwhile your boss needs to realize that nerves are easily frayed these days and it would really help to keep you and the members of the team informed.
To do if you’re the boss: Be candid with your workers about the company’s goals and long-term health.
To do if you’re a worker: Ask questions about the company’s future. Do your best to stay in touch with what leadership is discussing.
6. Check in on emotional well being.
If you sense that someone on your team feels fearful or depressed as a result of the pandemic or the isolation of working from home, ask questions to ascertain the person’s state of mind. If you believe someone is struggling, share your concerns with your boss and inquire whether the company can offer retargets or recommend services. But tread carefully around confidentiality. If you’re the boss, don’t wait for one of your workers to bring this idea to your attention. Be sensitive to the stresses that remote working can cause. Schedule regular virtual coffee or lunch dates to chat and remain connected.
To do if you’re a boss: Ask for one-on-one Zoom get-togethers to check in.
To do if you’re a worker: Suggest ways to break the isolation, such as Zoom coffees or even a virtual happy hour after work with your colleagues.
The new remote work relationship can actually benefit boss-employee dynamics. Each can better appreciate how the other successfully juggles professionalism and personal life with panache. The newfound respect you and your boss find for each other can boost the synergy between you and result in a more trusting, considerate, and congenial bond that can extend into the post-pandemic future.
About the guest post author:
Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-bestselling author of five books, including Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots (Sourcebooks 2008). She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media target, having made over 901 appearances in broadcast, print and online outlets. .