I don’t trust my team to work remotely

Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

Full disclosure, the title is pure click-bait. I trust my team to work remotely, of course I do. As an SRE team most of their job is ‘working remotely’ to some degree. Either to the DC where the machines live or from home at stupid o’clock in the morning to fix an incident. No, the reason I’ve used such a click-bait style declaration is because I have confidence in my team to work remotely.

Confidence over trust, an entirely different concept.

It is the difference between the micro and the macro manager.

You see, the world changed almost overnight when COVID-19 showed up on level 2 of this Jumanji game we call 2020. Those who could were asked to work from home for an extended period. As I said above, this really isn’t a huge deal for an SRE team or most companies that work in the I.T. world. Remote work is no longer considered a ‘perk’ to be listed on the job spec. these days. It is, almost rightly so, an assumed aspect of an I.T. position. We have broadband, we have cloud services, we have apps that allow us to check work emails on our phones securely. The world is being designed more and more for a remote work force.

Trusting your team to work remotely means that you do just that: trust them. You believe that they will show up, log in, do the tasks assigned and perform as if the office was still a thing we all work in and not just a myth from The Before Times when people all had to get dressed and commute.

You know what? That is fine. Trusting your team to do that is okay, but as a manager you are going to be putting a lot of extra pressure on yourself. For starters you will be double and triple checking the work being produced by your remote reports. There will always be that nagging sensation, that itch, in the back of your mind that the old adage of “Out of sight, out of mind.” is in effect, but with you being the one out of mind. While the manager’s away the employees will fire up Netflix and play, so to speak.

You trust your team to do the job but will wonder if the job would be at the same standard as if you were there in the same room.

That last line is an entire article about micro and macro management, that I’m not going to get into here. (After all, I need some ideas for future articles).

But having confidence in your team, now that is a different concept entirely.

Confidence leans heavily on the foundation a manager laid when forming and strengthening their team. It goes beyond trusting they are working, of course they are working. Confidence is the knowledge that they are doing the work so well, so brilliantly, that you never have to worry about checking. Whether you are in the same office or working two cities apart a confident manager is assured that their team are making the right choices. That tasks are being completed in such a way nobody needs to go and double check things, because everything is being done right first time.

A confident manager simply keeps the lines of communication open, acts as a Fluentd service for task distribution, then sees the results come out the other end.

Confidence, like trust, is a two-way street, of course. You give it to get it. The micro-manager will not inspire confidence in their direct reports, how could they? If every task performed is going to be examined and scrutinised for no reason other than to remind you of the hierarchy in place, then people will never feel confident that the work they are doing is not going to be questioned “just because”. Confidence is the tool of the macro-manager and that sort of manager will have employees who are confident that they are making the right decisions because they have shown in the past to be able to do the same.

You could argue that confidence is just a layer on-top of trust. If, for some reason, the work coming out from an employee started to veer towards ‘bad’ then the confidence is removed, but the manager can still trust the employee to do good work. That could be a useful warning flag for the manager that maybe, just maybe, their once very able direct report is having some issues and they need a hand.

An observant manager will spot that immediately, bring the trust back into focus and work to get that confidence level increased. After all, not everyone is doing great from a mental health perspective during the pandemic. Keeping on top of that stuff is just as important as the workflow.

Of course, none of this article suggests that just because you have confidence in your team a manager is off the responsibility hook. Projects still need to be delivered and your team are just the fine folk doing the work. You still need to maintain the lines of communication, reach out to people as milestones approach to see if you can support them in any way. You’re just confident that when it comes to the monthly report being fed up to the Senior Leadership nobody questions the good work being produced.

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Derek Power

Derek Power

Head of Cloud Infra by day, gamer by night, author of a comedy-fantasy series called ‘Filthy Henry’ by twilight — Trust me, I always lie.