Remote working: key considerations for junior employees’ development

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Employers need to establish clear processes, monitor the quality of work and provide timely feedback if they are to effectively supervise junior employees and track their development needs while they are working from home during the coronavirus lockdown.

This was the advice of Catherine Thomas, a senior associate at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, during the firm’s teleconference session on effective homeworking yesterday (31 March).

She said that monitoring the work of junior, less experienced, or new employees was a vital component of ensuring their output was consistent and of good quality, and was especially necessary when physical supervision was not possible. It can also help identify any development needs.

“This is even more important in times of great change, such as these, where members of the team might be allocated alternative roles or doing tasks that they’re unfamiliar with,” said Thomas, who works as part of the law firm’s remote team.

She said “smart remote supervision” should consist of three main elements: the establishment of a clear process; quality assurance by senior members of staff; and the provision of effective feedback.

Establishing a clear process

Thomas said giving junior staff a clear process to follow while working remotely will “provide them with a crutch on which to lean when there isn’t a colleague sitting next to them”.

The process should identify which tasks the team is required to do, how they need to be done and who is going to do each tasks.

“Key though, when working remotely, is ensuring the process contains practical and administrative elements,” she said. “It should include things like instructions on document management, financial procedures and email management.

“Outlining the administrative side of things is usually beneficial as this knowledge is often picked up from day-to-day conversations in the office, which obviously aren’t happening at the moment.

“Finally, [staff] should be spot-checked by managers to ensure the process is being followed.”

Quality assurance

Managers and supervisors also needed to establish a quality control process. Thomas recommended setting milestones for them to review junior colleagues’ work, with any learning points recorded in a central log to keep track of areas that need to be developed.

“This prevents the junior from growing off-piste which can happen when people are working remotely and, to some extent, left to their own devices,” she said.

“But also key in maintaining quality is ensuring that the supervisor remains approachable, even from afar, and that their virtual door is always left open. Juniors should be encouraged to pick up the phone with queries. I find to encourage this, regular phone calls from the supervisor to the junior promote a real level of familiarity and can ease any awkwardness the junior might feel in telephoning the senior member of the team.

“However, caution should be exercised. I do find that by following up the advice I’ve given over the phone by email really helps as the junior may not have picked everything up in the conversation.”

Juniors should be encouraged to pick up the phone with queries. I find to encourage this, regular phone calls from the supervisor to the junior promote a real level of familiarity and can ease any awkwardness,” – Catherine Thomas, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

Providing effective feedback

Finally, employers need to provide feedback on junior colleagues’ work, even if their managers are themselves busy with any increases in their own workload brought on by the coronavirus.

Thomas said: “Working remotely poses real challenges for giving constructive feedback. There can be issues regarding the tone of emails – I’m sure we’ve experienced situations where an email can seem abrupt or unhelpful, yet that was not the intention – but, conversely, during a phone conversation it can be difficult to articulate some of the points you want to make and tricky for the supervisor to gauge the level of the junior’s understanding.

“My main tip would be to empower the junior to react to the feedback and to make the improvements to the work themselves to ensure the feedback has been taken on board and received correctly. It can be really tempting as a supervisor to amend a document electronically themselves, but this means that any valuable learning is lost.”

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