Why Leading a WFH Team is Hard (Part Two): You Feel Disconnected

If you walked into the office on a working day and found it empty, what would you think? Is it Sunday? Or a public holiday? Did you miss the memo about the company picnic??? Was there a COVID-19 outbreak?

That’s how many people feel when they’re working from home (WFH). They switch on their laptop in the morning, log in, and then wonder, “Is anybody else here?” It feels odd not to be connected.

This is especially true if you’re a leader. Your people might be busy, but how can you “manage” them if you can’t connect with them?

Many leaders try to fix this in the wrong way – for example:

  • Pointless Zoom/Teams meetings
  • Random phone calls that interrupt productive work
  • Forcing people to keep their webcam on all day (Yes, this is a real thing!)

The research shows because productivity usually increases in a WFH environment. Yes, even in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic!

But if you don’t get this right, activities such as these can seriously damage productivity. For example, here’s a small sample of real experiences from employees working from home in workplaces that aren’t getting this right:

“I am not able to concentrate as a result I have to extend my shift every day and I have to work 10–11 hours to complete my work, which I used to complete in 8 hours at my office.”

“You are meant to be available from 9 in the morning till 8 in the evening, which is totally disrupting the 9–5 pattern.”

“I’m concerned that my manager doesn’t see the full extent of my contributions, which will slow down my career trajectory.”

“I find it more intimidating to have difficult conversations, raise tough questions, or flag concerns when working remotely.”

“If you’re idle for a few minutes, a pop-up will come up and it’ll say, ‘You have 60 seconds to start working again’.”

To truly engage your people so they are at least as productive (if not more) as in the office, you do need to create opportunities for connection in the online space. But you need to connect differently.

In an office, you’re all in the same physical space, so it’s easy and convenient to monitor, check in, interrupt, “drop by”, “jump into a quick meeting”, go out to celebrate a win, and go for a walk to have an informal feedback session. I’m not necessarily saying these are all good for productivity – but they are easy and convenient, so they happen.

In a WFH team, these things are neither easy nor convenient – in fact, they are downright difficult and inconvenient. Your job is not to make these things easier or more convenient, but to find other ways to achieve the same outcomes.

If you try to recreate the office experience in a WFH environment, your need for connection will clash with your desire for productivity.

For example, because “Zoom fatigue” is real, your online meetings should usually be shorter than in-person meetings (especially half-day or full-day meetings!). But an even better approach is to examine every meeting to identify its outcomes – and then find the best ways to achieve those outcomes in your WFH environment.

That’s the real secret to WFH productivity. Stop trying to recreate the behaviours that work in an office, and leverage the benefits of the WFH environment instead.

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