7 April 2020
How to cultivate better relationships when you’re working remotely
In today’s environment it is vital that managers not only understand how their employees are performing, but how they are feeling.
One of the many benefits of adopting check-ins is their ability to transform the relationship between managers and employees.
The power of regular conversations
Before check-ins, there was very little opportunity for employees to get regular face-time with their managers. Performance reviews happened once a year, and were inherently imbalanced – the manager did most of the talking, and the employee sat and listened passively. Apart from these yearly formalities, one-to-one meetings with a manager were usually only called once a problem had escalated.
Unsurprisingly, it was normal for employees and managers to know very little about each other outside of the context of work, particularly those working in big teams. Employees could effectively go years without having a meaningful conversation with their boss – if they had one at all.
With check-ins, employees get to hold meaningful conversations with their managers on a regular basis. Not only is this a chance to discuss anything work-related – progress, goals, happiness, problems, etc. – it also helps the two parties to get to know each other on a more authentic, human level. This is particularly important in today’s world where many of us are feeling vulnerable, isolated and afraid.
Professional vs personal
For this to work, however, managers need to find a way to successfully bridge the professional and the personal.
This can be a tricky balance to strike. On the one hand, you want your employees to see you as someone they can confide in, and be themselves around. But on the other hand, work is still a professional environment, and certain boundaries will always exist. Besides, some employees may be naturally reticent about getting to know their manager on a personal level.
So, what’s the best approach? The following tips are a good place to start.
Be someone they can trust
Check-ins are a chance to discuss work-related and personal matters openly and honestly. For this to succeed, however, your employees need to trust you as a manager and as a person. If they don’t, conversations will be inauthentic, forced, or dishonest.
Gaining people’s trust is not a simple matter. There’s no quick fix; instead, trust is built over time, as a direct result of your actions and attitudes.
To be someone your employees can trust, make sure you exhibit the characteristics that you would want to see in them – honesty, openness, kindness, patience, and a willingness to help and listen.
Make sure you have their back when they are struggling, and discuss any performance-related issues with them directly. Ensure that the feedback you give them is fair, and any criticism is constructive.
And finally, keep them informed, as much as you can, about the bigger picture they are working towards.
If you do all these things consistently over time, your people will learn to trust your character. They will then be naturally more willing to discuss personal issues as well as professional ones.
Get to know the person behind the position
Work can sometimes feel like a professional bubble where we leave our personal lives at the door (or when you turn off your laptop!). But to truly connect with your employees on a personal level, it is critical that you get to know who they really are.
This means building up a picture of their lives outside of work – their hobbies, interests, and relationships. The only way to do this, of course, is by asking them.
Reserve a little time during a check-in to catch up on personal news. Ask them non-work-related questions, and show an interest in their lives beyond the professional. Not only will this help you understand, empathise and relate to them, but it will also help to humanise the work environment.
Be more than a job title yourself
It is also important that your team members see you as more than just a job title. By sharing who you are outside of work, they will see past the professional persona and get to know you as a person.
And the more they get to know you on a personal level, the more likely they will be to trust you as a manager – and the more they will be willing to discuss personal matters honestly and openly.
Create the right kind of environment
Employees who are used to traditional approaches to performance management and the employee-manager relationship may struggle at first to ‘get’ check-ins, particularly video check-ins which puts even more pressure on some people who find video calls difficult.
As a manager, your job is to help them understand that check-ins are about them, and for their benefit. There is no hidden agenda, no right or wrong things to say. Help them to see that discussing any issues they may be having – whether personal or professional – is the first step to solving them.
It may be worth setting these thoughts out during your first check-in with an employee, to ensure that you set off on the right foot.
Emphasise that this is a collaboration
Unlike traditional performance reviews where the employee had little input, check-ins are a two-way dialogue. If anything, the employee should be doing most of the talking.
This may be hard for some employees to get to grips with. They may be so used to meetings where their voice isn’t heard that they expect you to do all the talking. For this reason, it’s important that you emphasise the collaborative nature of check-ins.
This is a chance for you and your people to work together, on an equal footing, towards the same goal – making work a more enjoyable and productive place. This dynamic naturally helps to break down barriers between you and your staff.
These suggestions should help managers to create an environment in which employees feel safe to discuss not only professional issues, but personal ones as well. Over time, this will help you to cultivate better, more human relationships, build on mutual trust, respect, and honesty.