When we first heard the stories of Chinese firms providing their people with cushions when working at home, we did think that it was a strange, but nice, gesture. Jokingly we commented that these might be spy tools. Lo and behold!

Perhaps not surprising we felt that the Chinese would do such a thing. When, digging a little deeper, we discovered that during the global pandemic with many people working from home, organisations and businesses are increasingly monitoring and ‘spying’ on their people, we became increasingly incensed and aghast.

Let’s be clear about this. Such behaviour, we believe, reflects appallingly insecure and poor levels of leadership, management and people practice; and fails the most basic tenet of best practice people and talent, to remember that human and human factors in human capital, people and HR leadership and management.

That we are as a nation in the middle of a global pandemic and, due to government exhortations to stay and work from home, large numbers of people as doing so, it seems incredible that people and HR functions, leaders and managers have not understood how in some cases employees are struggling to juggle the demands of family life in lock down, and may not even have the environment, space or facilities to work as they would like to. In such circumstances, families’ and individuals’ mental health, welfare and stress levels are perhaps higher than ever.

People, talent, HR and operational leaders and managers would do well to remember that the best leadership and management is orientated around mission command, trust and the 7E’s.

Rather than what can be perceived as aggressive monitoring and micro management, how much better to recognise the knowledge, skills, expertise and experience that your people and talent have; trust them to get the job done; and provide and engage empathise, emancipate, encourage, enable empower and enrich. You might be pleasantly surprised by such an approach, which recognises the human factors, environment and contexts within which people have to operate when working from home.

Of course, organisational and business interests, performance, productivity and profitability are mission critical, but the best leaders and managers can balance rules of engagement and deployment with flexibility in a smarter, more intelligent way to establishing remote working frameworks, protocols and parameters which can reap real, tangible rewards.

‘Surveillance’ and monitoring through means and tools as forcing people to keep webcams on and monitoring keystrokes, under the guise of operational optimisation, does not inspire and motivate; rather it fosters frustration, exasperation, fuels resentment; and carries potential ethical and legal issues; as well as real risks which can detrimentally impact organisational and business value.

Fact. Almost 80 percent of people seeking new roles blame bad leadership and management. Not good for people and talent agendas!

Rather than being reactionary and allowing the pandemic to push ‘traditional’ views of work into a new operating model by necessity, it is much better for enterprises, organisations and businesses to use the pandemic and the requirement for new ways to work as a catalyst for innovation, transformation and change in ways which allow them to shape their futures, rather than be driven by external volatility, disruption, factors and events; and can deliver tangible strategic, transformational and operational benefits.

Best practice approaches to light touch remote working leadership and management are supported by recent research, such as recorded in the Harvard Business Review.

We are not advocating that objectives, outcomes and results be jettisoned or ignored; but that they are communicated, understood, performance managed and allowed to be delivered in more intelligent manner which recognises the hybrid contexts and environments within which many workers find themselves.

We have always believed that with two ears and one mouth, listening can be twice as powerful as speaking! A cup of coffee or tea, a good ear and a shoulder for support can also deliver exponentially greater benefits than the stick.

The global pandemic and the resultant working from home offers some potentially exciting and powerful opportunities for organisations and businesses to drive transformative cultural change which can in turn drive resilience, performance, productivity and profitability; as well as make a more powerful and socially constructive contribution to areas such as the environment and sustainability. All it takes is a little imagination, innovation, ingenuity and improvisation; coupled with leadership and management excellence.