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In The Flux Of Workplace Arrangements, Managers Need To Protect Candor Among Employees

Remote work has forced many employees to be more forthright about previously private personal information.

Working from home has imposed numerous obstacles for employees and employers, especially how remote staff maintain and even build good working relationships with their bosses. A new paper published in the Harvard Business Review suggests one of those new challenges is candor, a particularly sticky issue when work and home blur.

The paper explores the concept of psychological safety, the belief that one can speak up and challenge authority without risking punishment or humiliation. It’s a key factor driving healthy group dynamics and functioning companies, write co-authors Amy Edmondsen and Mark Mortensen, business professors at Harvard and INSEAD in France. And it’s strained significantly by remote work, working from home and hybrid office arrangements. 

Edmondsen and Mortensen suggest that as work and life become enmeshed in new ways, managers are forced to factor in an employee’s personal circumstances much more often. As employees have found it necessary to share more personal information with bosses in order to set hybrid schedules and function through the coronavirus pandemic, a door has been opened that’s hard to close, all while the real and significant risks of offering up these details remain. In hybrid situations, bosses may need to devise schedules and coordinate workflow with a team that’s not in the same place at the same time, with various members of the team disclosing different amounts of pertinent information about schedules. 

Above all, managers need to set a personal example of transparency and fairness if they want their staff to trust them. That includes framing the situation as a group scheduling challenge to solve, and being the first to explain their own unique personal situations, as it pertains to schedules, to show that candor is a two-way street. It’s also effective to both share positive examples (while respecting privacy) of when being upfront worked, and also policing team interactions to make sure those who risk speaking up don’t get pushback and ultimately decide not to be forthcoming in the future. It’s a relatively new and evolving challenge, but one that seems poised to stay with workplaces for the foreseeable future.