Accountability and remote working


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accountability and remote workersToday, I want to talk about the topic of accountability especially in relation to remote working. How I see accountability is best explained, I find, through my job as an HR consultant travelling in and out of many businesses.

When I walk through the front door of an organisation and find as you so often do nowadays either an unmanned front desk or even a non-existent reception desk, I tend to experience one of two things.

The employees who walk through the reception area where I stand waiting to be met or trying to fathom my way through an entry system either stop to ask if they can help or they totally ignore me. It’s as if I’m not there.

Interestingly this first impression of the treatment of outsiders is often perpetuated throughout my visit and subsequent dealings with the business. A lot of this I would observe is tied up in respect for others, an ability to see beyond your nose and an ability to be humble.

But thinking about accountability, accountability is about ACCOUNTING FOR our actions.

Those employees who stop to help me find my way recognise that it is both courteous but also of business benefit to get me to where I need to be. If we all work as a team then we all achieve together. Interestingly, I find that typically either everyone stops, or no one stops. It’s usually a cultural and behavioural thing led from the top.

Those who ignore me often no doubt justify such behaviour by saying it is not their job to help me find my way and that they are accountable as their intense focus on their own role makes them efficient.

Baloney is what I say to that. And what comes to mind is that saying about somebody, anybody, everybody and nobody…

Everybody thought that somebody else would do it. In fact everybody thought that anybody could do it, so they just walked past. Anybody though in fact has just resigned after being treated for so long by everybody as the proverbial “nobody’ who has everything dumped on them when nobody else can bothered. So nobody did it.

What I see when I’m stuck in reception with no one to help me, whilst I’m busting for the loo after a three hour journey and keen to make my appointment on time is that you are demonstrating, in a professional environment, a lack of courtesy, a lack of thought, a dismissive approach to outsiders, a lack interest in the wider needs of the team and business and a silo mentality in the business that employs you.

In PR terms, just one person who gets a poor impression of your business likely tells seven other people of their poor experience.

In business efficiency terms, when people operate in silos, ignoring the wider needs, none of the moving parts join up efficiently or effectively and communication is stunted. That can be disastrous.

In employee engagement terms. You have chosen not to create a friendly supportive environment. Is that the culture you chose?

As the world goes remote I have seen even more, this walk past in reception mentality. People have made themselves less available, harder to connect with, more transactional in how they work, rather than proactive, sharing and conscious of the bigger picture. Silos have hardened their walls, the sharing of ideas and collaboration diminished as a result.

Personally I feel I could scream into the communications black hole that has opened up in businesses. Messages, emails, voicemails that disappear into a black hole never to be seen again. Phones just ring out. Our time taken to communicate just dumped on the garbage pile.

Not valued. Not wanted. Because who now holds us, the employees, to account for our disappearing and non communication act when we don’t have to look them in the eye and no one really knows how our time today has been spent and , of course, at the critical moment ‘my WiFi went down’ has now replaced the previous nonsense of ‘you’re breaking up….’.

Accountability? I need to account for my actions do I? No I don’t as Remote working has given me and seemingly half the working population an invisibility cloak, I don’t even turn my camera on when zooming. I just focus on doing my job, or the bits of it I choose to see. Keeping my head down. Everybody, anybody, and somebody else can attend to the needs of the wider team and business and if nobody does, then that demonstrates poor leadership! Not my responsibility.

Wake up world, it was hard enough in businesses with poor accountability pre-COVID but remote working is compounding the issues. Don’t let HR myths about ‘employee engagement is everything’ blind you to the fact that if business suffers due to a lack of accountability, vision, great communication and collaboration etc there is no need for employee engagement as you will be laying people off and closing your doors.

In this time of economic crisis, it’s time to prioritise business needs, not give everyone an easy life by agreeing to every home working request that comes across your desk. That said, I am all for compromise and flexibility but that must cut both ways.

Your accountable employees will demonstrate an awareness of the bigger picture. Your non-accountable employees will not as they will prioritise their own needs above those of the business or simply choose home working because they haven’t lifted their heads up high enough to actually see and acknowledge the wider needs.

As so often comes to mind when I talk to directors and leaders in business firstly ‘who is managing who? And secondly, ‘beware the long term unintended consequences of decisions taken in haste today… over to you…

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