Tuesday 28 April 2020 3:20 pm

Remote working: How to keep your team happy in lockdown

Justine Campbell is managing partner for talent (UK&I) at EY

The concept of trust in the workplace has been a topical issue for a few years.

The tendency to quickly distrust information has continued to grow against the rise of fake news, making it increasingly difficult for some businesses to develop trust with their employees. 

Establishing workplace trust has arguably become even more challenging in the current Covid-19 environment where people are physically distanced from colleagues, leaders and the workplace.

Many organisations have shifted to firm-wide remote working on a significant scale for the first time and are facing new difficulties in navigating these unsettling times as they try to provide support to their people and clients. 

More trust means people feel like they belong — they feel safe, inspired, elevated and better connected to their colleagues and leaders. And, more importantly, when employees feel like they belong, they have greater mental and physical well-being.

As people adjust to dramatic changes in their work routine, leaders need to focus on connecting with their people, taking the time to ask questions, share their own experiences, and to a degree, show vulnerability.

It will help them understand the current multitude of different experiences on a personal level and will ultimately help strengthen trust in the workforce. 

At a time of physical distancing, this will involve practicing closer psychological and emotional distance. To better understand the diversity of their people, we need open and honest discussions about individuals’ homeworking environment.

While some people will have a set-up that lends itself to home-working, others may, for example, live in a crowded shared home, have children and other dependants to care for, or be a single carer, having to juggle work and personal responsibilities.

There will be cases where people live with individuals with long term health conditions or disabilities that can make the current environment even more challenging. Others may struggle with the realities of being unable to participate in cultural occasions within their communities or experience a greater degree of isolation if  they live alone.

Having transparent discussions around the personal challenges your team members might be facing, whether through formal or informal catch ups, is vitally important at this time and can also contribute to building a culture of greater inclusion and trust. 

Leaders should also consider how they interact with their team, ensuring that everyone has the same access to information and work opportunities as they would day-to-day in the office.

With new technologies and adjustments to a more virtual workplace, they can also look at how they can flex their communication style to accommodate different people, balancing email, phone and video to include as many options and preferences as possible. 

More broadly, as businesses review priorities, leaders must make sure they don’t lose sight of the diversity and inclusion agenda.

Not only is creating a culture of belonging embedded in D&I policies, seeing tangible action and movement towards diversity goals is critical to showing your people that you have a genuine commitment to inclusion and equal opportunity in the workplace.

Losing momentum on this could cause real damage in the levels of trust in your organisation and isolate different groups within the workforce. 

During this uncertain and challenging time, businesses need to pay close attention and actively cultivate environments in their organisations that signal trust, psychological safety and inclusion.

It will be vital to the wellbeing of their people as they try to manage the current situation, but also vital to the strength of the workforce businesses emerge with post-crisis.

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