CFO Paul Stedall says the key to working from home is trust and open communication

The King Price Insurance CFO explains that, pandemic or not, remote working is here to stay.

Just when we thought it was safe to start trickling back to the office, Covid-19 had other ideas. To be realistic, we’re probably going to have to live with working-from-home (WFH) for a while longer – if not forever. Pandemic or no pandemic, remote work is here to stay in some way, shape or form.

Of course, this brings its own set of challenges. I’m not a psychologist or a behavioural expert, but I see the impact of remote working on my team – and the biggest challenge I’ve seen over the past 18 months is maintaining the connection, communication and trust that you have in an office set-up, when you only ever see each other on a computer screen.

You can’t share a slushie and a chat, or pop over to your colleague’s desk to talk through a piece of work when you’re sitting at home. And those little daily interactions are the moments that build bonds and a sense of shared purpose in a team, and they help us to understand each other.

It’s even harder trying to onboard a new colleague and make them feel part of the team, when you’ve never met them in person. I joined King Price three weeks before the 2020 hard lockdown – and when I returned to the office, there were a couple of new colleagues who I walked straight past in the corridor. I didn’t recognise them off screen!

Fact is, it’s just not the same when your interactions are largely through email, group chat or video calls. As anyone who’s ever sat through a day of online meetings will tell you, Zoom fatigue is real.

But staying connected remotely doesn’t have to be negative. The way my team is continuing to maintain meaningful connections and trust is through constant, intentional communication. We make time to share small talk before and after meetings. We keep the fun and banter going. When more complex issues arise, or we hit a roadblock, we get together online to brainstorm. Most importantly, we make sure that everyone has access to the same info, and that we all stay on the same page when it comes to the progress of projects.

Trust is also built by knowing that every member of the team is doing what they should be doing, and contributing to the greater team output. In other words, pulling their weight. Let me tell you how NOT to ensure this: by micro-managing. I read an article recently that talked about the rise of monitoring technologies in the workplace – and quite frankly, I was horrified.

If you think you can drive productivity by looking over people’s shoulders, you’re dead wrong. I have zero desire to spend my time checking up on the team. It adds absolutely no value to the business. And I certainly don’t want my people putting any effort into trying to think about how to fool a monitoring system, rather than just doing the work.

As leaders, we have to show our people that we trust them to fulfil their responsibilities. We have to be accessible. We want an environment where they trust us enough to put up their hands if they’re struggling with something, and need to ask for advice or guidance. I will have failed in my role if anyone on the team ever felt they couldn’t approach me with a question or discuss a work or personal matter.

It’s this level of trust and openness that makes unlimited leave an option on my team, for example. When people trust each other’s integrity and work ethic, they know they won’t be left hanging by a colleague. If I trust that you’re committed to the shared objectives, and I see that you’re delivering your responsibilities, I don’t really mind when – or where – you do your work.