Working from home or remote working in some shape or form is going to continue and depending on which report you read, it’s a good thing for work life balance (flexibility and productivity are up) or a bad thing for our mental health (stress levels and feeling isolated are also up). The reality is managing our people remotely is harder and leaders may be underestimating how poor their emotional connections really are.

While the increased use of digital tools has meant we can continue with our jobs, we have found ourselves overwhelmed by those tools, feeling unproductive and inadequately supported by our bosses. So much so that 1 in 3 of us will be looking for a new job as soon as we can.

And there’s also the fact that your remote work culture may be harbouring toxic behaviours which are harder to locate when it’s distributed electronically rather than physically experienced or observed. 

Better spec kit and strong internet connection fit for home working, working time flexibility and maybe a pay rise might fix the mechanical aspects of work but what about feeling that our boss cares and knows how to be remotely supportive?

If we agree that the quality of our relationships is directly related to the quality of our conversations and time together, then our emotional connections could be the powerhouse of managing our people remotely.

So, how can we earn that emotional credit with our direct reports and people generally?

#1 — Get really good at contracting

Where we feel complete trust and confidence in a member of our team to get stuff done with very little oversight, it’s likely we view them as highly competent or we have a strong emotional connection, or both. (Pst… they still need support and good conversations.)

When we worry that work might not be getting done and we give in to that irresistible urge to keep checking in, we’ve got some serious trust issues and definitely a deficit in our emotional connection to that person. More on that in a moment.

Contracting is an important part of conversations where you both align on what needs to be done, by whom and by when. The bits that we don’t do so well are:

  • Clarify what the consequences are of something happening and not happening
  • What resources and help our direct report needs to successfully do the work
  • How we will both know that progress is happening
  • How we will be both know the task is successfully completed
  • What our options are should things not go to plan

Not only will this level of contracting bring both of you peace of mind and keep Big Brother at bay, but you as their manager will learn how your direct report thinks and you’ll establish a better emotional connection.

#2 — Give your meetings an overhaul

We’ve taken a meeting model that works in the physical world and put it on steroids in the virtual world. We’ve been super efficient and used morning and home commute times to squeeze in more meetings. Brilliant now we cover more time zones!

You don’t need me to point out the heavy price we pay, physically and mentally, by extending our working days.

It’s time to overhaul how we run our meetings

Could you shorten your meetings to allow for 5 minutes of prep before and 5 minutes of reflection afterwards? Those who prepare for meetings swear it increases meeting output 2-3 fold. Plus it’s a good signal that you’re working smarter, not harder.

Could you ditch a meeting and allocate that time to earning some emotional credit with your direct report? For example, have a quick pow-wow before a meeting to coach them on their contribution in the meeting as a growth opportunity for them.

And how about clarifying what your realistic working hours are? And when is it okay for folks to contact you about an issue while you’re chillaxing? Being too available creates an unhealthy dependency on you. Not clarifying your availability means people will constantly breach your boundaries. 

#3 — Get more comfortable talking about feelings

“You said that makes you [feeling]. Why is that?”

I get it — talking about feelings can be uncomfortable and awkward, especially if you’re not a ‘feelings’ person. But in the context of a conversation between a manager and their direct report, this is a really, really important conversation skill to master.

When someone shares a feeling, they might be taking a big gamble. It’s a bit too common to change the subject or even miss the cue entirely. But I promise you, it’s where the magic is because if you can hold that space for them to talk it through, it might be all they need to push past something and find new energy.

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Rambling, saying the same thing 3 different ways, contradicting ourselves and scratching our heads all count as talking it through. If that’s happening, then you’ve got the secret potion to building strong emotional connections rich in oxytocin and other feel good hormones. A.K.A. Emotional credit.

Emotional connections are the elixir that could solve the unsolvable, bridge the widest gaps, and prioritise a task or goal higher just because we feel a bond with you. And it starts with just one really good conversation.

Banking emotional credit with each of your direct reports might even calm (or vanish) that stressful feeling in us of needing to see people working to believe they are really working or committed.

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