by Randy Clark
Whenever possible, before I present to a group on leadership development, I mingle with the audience and ask what obstacles they face in management. The hindrance to leadership that I hear most often is communication. From small start-ups to multi-billion dollar international corporations, it’s the same chorus. The most significant hurdle most managers face is communication. Communication breakdowns happen at every level of business but are especially critical when working with remote employees. Here are a few of the keys to communicating with remote workers.
Discuss Communication Preferences
Not long ago I handed out a communication preference worksheet to a group ten managers. Two detached managers joined via Go To Meeting. The worksheet listed six forms of communication and asked each manager to rate their preference from “always” to “only with my mother.” The group ranged in age from early twenties to late forties, and included eight men and two women. Their preferences varied widely.
We learned that one of the satellite managers hated email, which was significant since his district manager primarily communicated with him via email. The district manager and detached branch manager shared their individual preferences and created communication plan to carry forward.
Set Communication Expectations
A sales team I worked with set the expectation for detached sales representatives to “Check in” every workday morning by calling their manager to discuss their activities from the previous day. A daily calendar and to-do list, a worksheet if you will, were supposed to be sent to the manager before the conversation. However, the majority of the sales reps had gotten away from completing the documents. The manager ignored and excused inconsistent completion of the worksheets. He didn’t share his expectations or hold his team accountable, which eventually led to a dwindling number of worksheets completed. The manager had lost control because he didn’t set expectations or hold his team accountable.
The manager’s VP stepped in to assist. The VP called the sales team into the office. He began by asking the team if they knew why the worksheets were required and how they could help the salespeople. Next, he held a meeting outlining the company’s expectations of daily worksheets. After that, he and the manager met with each sales rep individually and asked if they had any questions or input on the worksheets and if they understood the expectations. After the meetings, the worksheets were sent daily.
Intentionally Involve Remote Workers
It’s easy to treat remote employees differently than someone working down the hall. So, what can you do to include them as part of the team?
- Don’t hold meetings without them, use Skype, Go To Meeting, or get them on the phone but include them in your meetings
- Ask for their input. There might not be any better way to be inclusive with a remote worker than to seek their advice.
- Keep them in the loop. Whatever is new at the office whether it’s a new policy, training, product, or tools and materials, the detached worker needs almost everything that the office personnel receive.
- Make some water cooler time. Take some time to just chat with your teammates who are out of the office. Picture in your mind’s eye standing together at the water cooler. What would you share?
Get in your car, hop on a plane, or bring them to you, but find a way to sit down, visit, and look each other in the eye. Regardless of all the communication networks available today, nothing replaces face-to-face communication.
Listen to Your Remote Team
Listening to your remote team isn’t only about developing good listening skills; it’s also about making time to listen. Business moves fast and too often we rush through activities so we can mark another thing off of our to-do list. Don’t let making time to listen to your off-site direct reports become one of those rushed activities
Improving Communication with Remote Workers Begins with You
In some ways communication with remote workers today is easier than it was twenty years ago, and in other ways it’s more difficult. We have more than beepers, landlines, and FAX machines today, but because we have so many communication options, it can become confusing. If you discuss preferences, set expectations, and spend time with your teammates, you’ll improve communication, and that’s where most improvement begins.
Randy Clark is the Director of Communications at TKO Graphix, where he blogs for TKO Graphix Brandwire. Randy is passionate about social media, leadership development, and flower gardening. He’s a beer geek and on weekends he can be found fronting the Rock & Roll band Under the Radar. He’s the proud father of two educators; he has four amazing grandchildren, and a wife who dedicates her time to helping others. Randy is the author of How to stay Ahead of Your Business Blog Forever, The New Manager’s Workbook: a crash course in effective management, and The Manager’s Guide to Becoming a Leader. He can be found on Twitter @randyclarktko, Facebook Randy Clarktko, and LinkedIn Randy Clark.
If you would like to learn how to be more efficient with your coaching and feedback with your remote teams, consider this workshop coming up in June.