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  • Writer's pictureEd Bray

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

“Nice to meet you, Kelsey. Thanks for joining our team!”

Well that felt weird. Not the fact someone just joined our team. But the fact I never met Kelsey in person and was introducing her to our team over a computer screen. Welcome to the new normal (at least for a while).

While Kelsey has her work cut out for her, I do too, as her manager. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m going to need to learn some if I’m going to succeed in this new normal of remote work. I remember this same thing happened when the Affordable Care Act passed and I was working in benefits. Overnight, people who had made their careers in benefits packed up and called it quits as they didn’t want to learn the new world of employee benefits documented in a 1,000-page Act.

Let’s talk about Kelsey as she wants to show us she was a great hire. To meet that end, her focus is on performing well, establishing trust and credibility with leadership, and developing relationships with those around her (well, not literally). The fact that Kelsey is working from home doesn’t make a difference to me when it comes to judging her performance, trust, and credibility. If she’s online during core working hours, being productive, and demonstrating a strong work ethic, she’ll be good. In fact, because she had defined job responsibilities, I’d learn very quickly if she was succeeding or failing.

For example, if Kelsey didn’t process the expected 150 cases per week, a weekly report would let me know. If she didn’t attend or wasn’t prepared for our weekly team and one-on-one meetings, I would know. However, she’s going to have to get creative when it comes to developing relationships as gone are the days of meeting in the breakroom, having lunch with colleagues, or small talk after meetings.

Everyone only knows Kelsey as a face and voice on a computer screen. To Kelsey’s credit, she did a few things that made me go hmm (in a good way). One thing I noticed was she always first to online meetings. This enabled her to introduce herself to those she hadn’t met and make small talk with those she had — “How was your weekend?” “What department did you say you worked in again?” “My cat is named Gehrig.” Proactively taking such action allowed employees to learn more about her.

Also, she was always on camera. Sure, I saw her cat a few times and an interesting looking plant, but I also saw how engaged and focused she appeared, which demonstrated to me her interest in learning her new role and whatever was being discussed in the meeting. Last, but certainly not least, during the holidays, she made cookies for everyone on the team. No, she wouldn’t see us in person to deliver them (she dropped them off in individual boxes at our corporate office where we could each pick them up), but it was an above-and-beyond gesture in the space of personalizing her relationship with the team. What’s better than holiday cookies?

Okay, now for my biggest challenge as her manager? How would I know whether Kelsey was developing important relationships with the team, her peers, and the departments she needed to work with? Sure, I planned on observing her actions as highlighted earlier, but I needed to see behind the curtain. Here’s where the learning new tricks comes into play.

Given I wouldn’t see all of Kelsey’s interactions nor physically see the individuals she’d be working with in the office, I scheduled periodic meetings with them to see how Kelsey was doing. I’m glad I did because I learned that while she was definitely making an effort, she wasn’t always absorbing important information some team members shared with her. Knowing this, I was able to share such feedback with her, plus tips on how to improve so that no one would turn against her.

We all have our work cut out for us in this new normal—managers and new employees alike. While we don’t know how long this will last, I am certain that many companies will adopt hybrid models where employees will work from home and in the office. That said, this dog is going to keep learning new tricks to effectively manage in the remote workspace.

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