Men struggling more with communication in remote workplace?

Business leaders can aid workplace communication for men and women by creating spaces where employees feel OK to open up.
Workstress Panel

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous reports and studies showing how women and working mothers are taking an outsized hit to their careers.

Now comes a new survey that indicates it’s actually men who may be struggling more with communication and feeling like their skills aren’t advancing and their chances for promotion are drying up in a remote workplace. Woe is men?

Hardly. But the information on the differences men and women are experiencing in the pandemic-induced remote workplace are worth noting for leaders who want to create more inclusive workplaces where everyone feels like their voices are being heard.

According to the recent FlexJobs survey of 2,100-plus remote workers [approximately 550 men and 1,600 women who responded] communication and collaboration have been most affected by the loss of in-person work:

  • 25% of men said communicating in real time was a challenge for them while 17% of women said the same;
  • 39% of men said their ability to collaborate in a virtual environment suffered while 30% of women reported the same;
  • 20% of men but only 13% of women said they think working remotely during the pandemic has hurt their chances of promotion or advancement; and
  • 26% of men believe their professional skills have suffered during the pandemic, compared to 17% of women.

Interestingly, these struggles haven’t dissuaded many men or women from wanting remote work to stick around. Sixty-nine percent of men and 65% of women said that having increased remote work policies will improve gender equality for women in the workplace. Additionally:

  • If not allowed to keep working remotely in their current position, 60% of women would look for a new job, whereas 52% of men would quit.
  • 69% of men and 80% of women said remote-work options are among the most important factors to consider when evaluating a job prospect.
  • Women prefer remote work at a higher rate. When asked what their preferred workplace is after the pandemic, they reported:
    • Remote-only (57% of men and 68% of women);
    • Hybrid (41% of men and 30% of women); and
    • In the office full-time, not working remotely at all (2% of men and 2% of women).

So, what — if anything — can business leaders take away from this information to improve the working situations of their entire teams moving forward?

Mike McKay, partner and licensed coach for ActionCOACH of Madison, notes the survey itself provides only vast generalizations and assumes the people who were surveyed actually want to change their behaviors or results. “I didn’t see any question in that data asking whether change is desired.”

His colleague, Bill Vinson, vice president and licensed coach, says regardless, there is an opportunity for leaders to create a space for others to feel like they can talk about their challenges.

“The best way to do this is through building relationships,” advises Vinson. “Many of us feel like we cannot talk to anyone about the challenges we go through. When we connect with that rare leader, we are more likely to open up. How do we do that though?”

Vinson explains the best way he knows how to do that is to listen with intent and work to communicate in a way that works for the other person, male or female.

“Some cues to look for include asking yourself is this person fast-paced and gets energy from tasks?” says Vinson. “Talk about results that they are or aren’t getting. Are they more methodical and get energy from people? Put them in situations that will slow down and allow them to feed off the energy of the team. There are many other ways to do this; in fact, this is an area my team and I are really good at training on.”

McKay says communication difficulties have to be navigated first by individuals, not their leaders. “I can’t tell you how to change your communication approach until I know what result you want to create. Then, as a leader, I can offer skills and options that will get you those results. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this.”

According to Vinson, in order for business leaders to make your teams feel like they’re not only valued and seen as people you want to keep around, but also assets you want to invest more in, you have to prove to your team how much you care with your actions, not your words. “People will hear what we say but they will believe what we do. Our actions will tell our teams if we value them or not.”

McKay echoes this, noting leaders show their employees they’re worth investing in by actually investing in them. “However, not every person on a team is useful to invest in. In some cases, they just want to get through their day and go home. This is a ‘lead a horse to water’ situation. Regardless that there is a simple answer — invest in them — that does not mean the answer aligns with what the leader believes and what that person wants.”

Ultimately, it’s the business leaders who have the power to address communication barriers for all employees in the workplace, and that can be as simple as being actively present in meetings.

“For example, it’s upon the leader to see that Alex consistently speaks over Ann,” says Vinson. “It’s also the opportunity for the leader to ask Ann, either in a group or small team setting, what her opinions are. Additionally, the responsibility falls on the leader to let Alex know what they are seeing, otherwise Alex may never realize a need to change.

“If the team member doesn’t feel valued, whether they are a male or female, they typically will not open up,” adds Vinson. “As mentioned above, for everyone to feel included, the team will need to not only hear but see the values of the company backed up by leadership’s actions.”

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