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Building trust during a crisis

Remote work has been the new norm for many who adapted quickly and enjoy the flexible work arrangements. However, not all sectors are equally suited for remote working and many employees have struggled with the new setting. As a result, it can be more stressful and challenging for some leaders who face the additional task of helping their teams through their struggle to adapt.

Managing expectations

According to a recent Harvard Business Review research, managers who cannot be in face to face contact with their direct reports sometimes struggle to trust that their employees are indeed working. This can lead to managers developing unreasonable expectations that those team members should be available at all times, disrupting their work-life balance and ultimately leading to more work-related stress. In addition, the Covid-19 driven anxiety and uncertainty that employees are experiencing can lead to a drop in productivity, which in turn could lead to micromanagement. Micromanagement is not an effective way to get the best out of people and it often leads to a decrease in employee motivation which further negatively impacts productivity.

To change this, managers need to check in rather than check up on their employees. They need to learn new skills of delegation and empowerment to provide their teams with more autonomy, as this will help to promote employee motivation and performance. At the same time, it’s important that leaders don’t confuse autonomy with less communication. Regular communication is crucial and frequent check ins will help to provide guidance and support for those who work autonomously. Frequent communication also reduces fear and uncertainty and ensures that employees have heard the message. While leaders may experience fatigue from repeating core messages, they need to acknowledge that employees need to hear these messages multiple times, and different people may need to hear messages in different ways and through different channels.

Creating confidence

The same research suggests that many workers are also experiencing a strong sense that their manager doesn’t trust their ability to do the work. Thirty-four percent say that their managers “expressed a lack of confidence in their work skills” and similar numbers report that their manager doubts their ability to do the work. Even more employees report feeling that they need to be constantly available, such as being expected to respond to messages immediately, be available at all times, and be responsive even after work hours.

These results suggest the prevalence of an “always on” culture for workers at home and the impact of constant monitoring is a significant issue given mental health challenges during the pandemic. It’s not logical to think that just because people are physically at their desk and closely monitored that they will perform well - in fact employees can feel mistrusted and lower their perception that they are performing well.

Research on emotional intelligence suggests that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations, and if a manager communicates stress and helplessness, this will have a negative effect on employees. Effective leaders acknowledge the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling in difficult circumstances, but also show their confidence and trust in their teams. At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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