This has a negative effect on engagement and motivation, as well as increasing anxiety and stress levels. So, how can managers ensure that the next generation are properly engaged and developed while working from home?
Invest management time upfront
A golden rule of good management is that you usually receive the quality of work from your juniors that you deserve. When remote-working, firing off emails to junior employees with short, blunt instructions might feel like a great time-saver. In fact, it is likely to create a worried, confused and inefficient employee, who feels unable to ask questions, and so gets things wrong.
Alternatively, spending the time having just a 10-minute call in advance, explaining what is needed, in what format, where to find good resources, and (crucially) why all those things are important, makes it far more likely the work will be done well. You will also have an engaged, confident and purposeful junior who has a proper understanding of the commercial context they are working in. This is a great recipe for development.
Feedback in real time
It is tempting to de-prioritise giving feedback to juniors when they are not sitting next to you with bated breath, waiting for your response to their hard work. It is easier to think “Oh, I can discuss this with them next week,” or “I’ll drop them an email when I have more time.” However, feedback starts to lose relevance very quickly, and is much harder to learn from it as more time passes. Even worse, these best intentions can end up slipping a manager’s mind altogether.
The best remote managers will always make time for feedback on the same day or, at worst, the day after.
A genuine virtual “open door policy”
It is perhaps too easy to say, “call anytime” and then feel your job is done as a remote manager. While this is great in theory, because it seems to give employees access to supervision on tap, it only works if it is put into practice. When the time comes, if it is more “give me a try this afternoon, because you might catch me between meetings. If not, then tomorrow sometime – can you check my diary?” its value is lost. A junior may be floundering with a task, and only need a five or 10-minute discussion.
Even though it can be hard, the best managers will answer their phone if they can, or otherwise call back as soon as they can. If it then requires more time than they have, they will set a specific slot when they do have the time.
Further reading: Does the UK need a more positive approach to open door policies?, & Part II
See remote calls in the same way as office conversations
A great trick is to adopt a mindset where phone calls are seen in the same way as office conversations or meetings. If you would have asked a junior to sit in on a meeting, or grabbed them to join in a conversation, do the same with your remote calls.
Modern technology allows you to quickly loop in multiple participants. This addresses one of the biggest downsides of remote working, where people miss out on “learning by osmosis” as they can no longer listen in on the discussions or meetings they otherwise would have learned from in the office.
Have regular one-to-ones
All employees have career goals and aspirations, whether they work remotely or not. Take time for regular video meetings to discuss these and how they can be achieved. Juniors might need extra guidance on how to achieve them while working remotely. Tackling this head on will avoid frustration and de-motivation, as employees can still see a clear path in front of them for progression at work.
Kate Ledwidge is senior associate at JMW Solicitors