A Work-Anywhere Policy Needs Emotional Intelligence

I’m coaching more people in their home these days – because that’s where they work. Most say it’s great for flexibility, and that they save time and money without the commute or “dressing for work”.  Several leaders have global teams they need to coordinate and be in touch with. Topics differ, but there is often a sense of disconnection that can range from isolating personal loneliness to leadership angst around managing what can’t be seen.

Here’s what I suggest organizations and individuals consider to get the best out of their work-anywhere model:

Have good metrics in place. There is still a tendency in leaders to be skeptical or distrustful that employees will spend their time at home productively. This might be a projection of their own traits, or it could be because they’ve had experience managing an employee who lacked good self-organizing skills. Sure, some output can be tracked objectively. A free-flowing conversation allows discussion of implicit expectations. Test your assumptions – things like quality measures, weighting of competing priorities and when you will each reach out or escalate. The conversation is a way to contract up front and avoid nasty surprises later.

I suggest that leaders be the ones who ensure they stay in regular touch with employees. This avoids the trap of waiting till something needs attention and building your relationship on issue-management. I don’t mean you should “hover” – but consciously build a balance of relaxed and tense conversations. Randomly call in to show interest and offer support. Ensure every individual feels their contribution (and themselves) are seen. This is about leaders using high levels of emotional intelligence.  And I would say it’s not enough to stay in touch using text – I would advocate for a face-to-face more personal attempt – Skype, Zoom – at least phone – since we communicate so much with our bodies. A leader may miss a cue that an employee is struggling and needs more support if they just send notes.

What can you expect if you agree to work remotely? Individuals who work from home bring me coaching topics about: work/life balance (how do I ignore the laundry pile – I hear this from working parents) and also loneliness (how do I feel connected to my team and my organization) and also visibility/recognition (how do I ensure I don’t get passed over for the next promotion or a great project if I’m not there to put up my hand) So, plan a good strategy for relationship-building and networking. Design good boundaries for self-care.  Interestingly, many people who work at home work harder (not less) because the work is right there. So, we often talk about timed coffee/walk breaks (I blogged about it (link to puppy breaks) and that they have a space to work that is designated and hopefully where they can close/lock the “office door” or a drawer they can lock their device into.

Finally, as we become physically isolated, perspective-taking is important. Create a personal panel of mentors or advisors that you can reach out to randomly. Call one (or more) of them, whenever you need to check if how you are seeing a situation is realistic. In emotional intelligence we call this “reality testing”. Alone, under stress, you may feel constricted, overwhelmed and stuck. Use this group for brainstorming options and you can alleviate tunnel-vision.

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