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  • Writer's pictureMy HR Guy

Empty Chair Syndrome

Do you often come out of your office, looking for an employee, and find an empty chair? Especially when you really need them? Or, do you sometimes check Skype to see if your employee is signed on, only to see that they are unavailable or worse yet; Offline? Does this anger you?

If so, you may have come down with Empty Chair Syndrome. Now bear with me as I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I have seen this before, and I think I can help.

First take a deep breath, and know that there are steps you can take to overcome this syndrome. It will require an open mind, and a willingness to look at your symptoms from a different viewpoint. Are you ready?

Traditionally, managers have used the hours of 9-5 (or some variation of that) to ensure that the people they needed were where they expected them; in the office. Unless you were in sales, everyone knew your general location for a full 8 or 9 hours. This worked for decades, but in recent years there has been a shift. A shift that has seen more employees wanting flexibility in their hours, and therefore throwing the comfort we previously had, on it's ear.

That has introduced flextime, telecommuting, and work from home options into our work-life. For many companies, this transition has been seamless. But for many others, it's been downright painful. It's in these companies that you find many people afflicted with Empty Chair Syndrome, so what do you do?

Here are a few preventative steps you can take to either avoid, or get over this syndrome.

1. Communicate (a foundational principle of mine) expectations, and provide reasoning. For example, in a flex-time environment, let your employees know that clients expect responses to inquiries fairly quickly and begin reaching out at 7:30AM. Therefore, you need them there no later than 7:30AM. Or, if there are multiple people, work together to figure out who can handle the earlier shift, and who can manage later. Get past the "do this because I said so" mind-frame. Professionals want to be treated like adults, not children, and providing reasoning and explanation is part of adult communication.

2. Set goals! Many professions are driven by productivity, so set clear productivity goals, and evaluate the individual based on their ability to hit the goals Goals may be based on due dates, but they can also be based on response time...client evaluations....accuracy. None of these things are dependent on sitting in a chair, and all can contribute to a successful business. If you're having a hard time converting your desire for having someone in the chair into a business need, talk to your employees about your concern. A group discussion will likely lead to solutions that alleviate your symptoms.

3. Set Boundaries! This doesn't work without some sort of framework. Create core hours (that are shorter than the workday). Create mandatory in-office days if in-person meetings or collaboration sessions are an integral part of your organization. Establish a way to communicate locations. It could be a team calendar that's updated weekly, or daily. You could have team members set established schedules. You could require that they input their location on Skype. Create an expectation around how quickly a response is needed if you IM or call, indicating a more urgent need.

4. Take advantage! Think about your own life. I'm sure you've worked hard to make everything outside of work revolve around the 9-5, but it's possible that you allow more work to creep into your home time than home life to creep into work time. That can't be fair, can it? The truth is, some days you need space for one more than the other, and that's okay. Once you figure it out, you'll realize that your productivity doesn't have to suffer. Same goes for your employees!

There's plenty more to consider, but these are just a few preventative measures to help with this syndrome. The benefits of flexibility can go far, so if you've experienced empty chair syndrome, you're in a prime position for help.

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