Join Tom Brown, Executive Director of Semiconductor Business Unit at Brewer Science, as he shares inspirational leadership advice and professional growth stories
As we are adjusting to our “new normal” and some employees are transitioning to a hybrid working format, we discussed the top 5 important tips to successfully work hybridd. These tips include:
- Knowing what’s important
- Scheduling for success
- Managing interruptions
- Staying engaged
- Measuring and self-reflecting
While these are great tips for someone who spends part of their time working at the facility, it neglects to see the challenges that remote employees face as they continue to work from home.
As a former remote employee, I am familiar with the challenges of moving to a different work format, whether that be work from home, work remote from another facility location, or working at the headquarters. In my experience working remotely, I did not have the modern conveniences of a laptop, smart phone, video conference or cloud storage. I did have a fax machine, a pager, and a zip drive to which I could read and write large files but had to ship the hard disks via FedEx. Working from home is not a new concept, nor are the challenges it brings.
When I was first working remote out of my apartment in 1996, it felt like a disaster. I struggled being alone in my apartment office and not engaging with people. Having to use pagers and fax machines to collaborate on projects did not build connections and comradery like can happen today through video conferencing and web files. Our Sales Manager noticed the change, not just with me but with other remote personnel as well. We decided to lease office space, allowing us to work together in a shared environment. The impact it had on comradery and productivity was felt nearly instantly by all of us.
However, in our modern day, technology advanced world, with the power of communication at our fingertips, we can stay connected using video conferencing from our computer or smart devices. We can attend virtual conferences and training courses that include breakout sessions. Sharing files and the ability to collaborate have enhanced our productivity while being remote. However, what happens when the camera is turned off? When does the connectivity fail to keep you engaged?
Am I being busy or productive?
When asked “how is it working from home,” the typical response you hear is “I’m so much more productive” or “I get so much more done.” You never hear someone say, “I don’t do diddly squat when I’m at home.” I experienced the productivity that comes with uninterrupted work time, but is it really the case a year later?
The Time Management Matrix is great way to assess what you are doing and where you are spending your time. Many people working from home realize there’s more time available for other things. Recognize how much of your workday is now spent on those extra tasks and classify them using the Time Management Matrix to understand if they are important and urgent. We expanded training activities and online courses for those working at home. Training has always been an important part of our approach in employee development, but while there was an uptick in those participating in the training courses, we must still ask: are those additional, extra training courses, bringing enough value for the time spent on them?
During conversations with some new employees, they were surprised by the number of people who attended some of our informational meetings. He asked if they were that well attended when everyone was working from the facility (WFF). I realized that was probably not the case. So, it made me wonder if the WFH approach made it easier to attend or was it something to do to occupy their time? There is value in staying connected, learning, and using time to align with other groups. However, to assess the time spent using the Time Management Matrix, we must plot those meetings on the grid – each persons’ perception could be different.
Am I being a faceless leader?
The power of mentorships and relationships is an important factor in leadership. One of the three steps in strengthening relationships includes being vulnerable and learning from previous challenges and sharing those examples with peers to enhance relationships. However, it’s also important to recognize that facial expressions play a vital role in relationship development as well. Something as simple as turning your camera on during a virtual meeting could make an impact on the message received by others. Ask yourself these important questions:
- How can you keep building and growing relationships virtually?
- How can you prevent silos from creeping back into the organization?
- How can you reinforce the relationships needed for a servant leadership environment?
It is difficult to be “present” in someone's life if you are not present mentally. It’s challenging to build team comradery if you are limited to emails and 30-minute camera-less meetings. The water cooler can be a distraction and a place for gossip, but it also can be a vehicle for learning about perspectives, fears, and doubts.
When I returned to the office after a year, a co-worker who was an essential employee and was working from facility stopped me in the hallway and we spoke for quite some time. While we had interacted at high school sporting events, we hadn’t really talked about work or in a more private setting. As we were wrapping up, he said, “Tom, you are right in that we have been extremely productive despite having such a small percent (of the workforce) here in the office. While our productivity has increased, our interpersonal connection has stayed stagnant. I need this,” as he pointed back and forth between us, referring to the interaction with others. I completely agreed.
Is my message being understood?
Everyone has their preferred method to communicate, whether that be emailing, texting, or even calling. However, what we need to keep in mind that our way of communicating may not be how others like to communicate. Even in the realm of emails, there are differences, some have short & targeted emails, while others have lengthy emails with lots of details (that sometimes reflect how I tend to ramble in conversation!) During one of my walk and talks, a mentee shared with me her various approaches depending upon the person.
While we each think we are being effective with our quantity or quality of communication, one must remember the most important aspect is how it is received. To evaluate this, ask yourself these basic questions:
- Are you getting feedback from your coworkers?
- Are they communicating more, or less with you?
When you are in person, the other person can easily ask for clarity, or you could see the confusion on their faces. When not in person, the onus is on you as the person who is communicating to verify that the message is received.
There are many benefits to working from home, just as there are working from the facility. Each work arrangement has its unique challenges. Maintaining perspective and awareness of the challenges can help you evaluate your productivity and impact. By using the Time Management Matrix, you can best allocate your time and ensure you are being productive, not just busy. Ensure you are not a faceless leader by making time to connect with people in person, or at the very least turn your camera on during meetings. Lastly, evaluate your communication preferences and ensure you are delivering a clear and consistent message by requesting feedback from your colleagues. Keeping these three tips in mind will help you overcome the challenges of working from home.
Brewer Science is a company that believes deeply in sustaining long-term success through value-based culture, diversity, and growth. Learn more about Brewer Science’s company culture.