When teams work together in one location, they see each other on a pretty regular basis. They see each other at lunch and in the break room. They pass each other in the hall, or when they walk by a person’s office or desk. They get frequent, visual reminders that other people are part of the team.
This dynamic can change radically when people start working remotely. Without these frequent reminders, team members can drift into an “out of sight, out of mind” perspective regarding other team members.
One common challenge faced by all teams is the tendency many of us have to focus primarily on what we need to get done and to forget about how what we do (or don’t do) impacts others. Basically, most of us are pretty self-centered. I’m not suggesting that everyone is completely selfish and acts with disregard for others. I’m just saying that it’s easier for us to focus on what we need to achieve, or get from our work and daily interactions than it is to remember how our actions impact others.
If this is true when other people are physically present with us, then the tendency is amplified when we are not physically present. When we don’t see people on a regular basis, it’s easy to get intensely focused on our personal daily agendas and to forget other members of our teams.
Interruption or Opportunity?
As we get more focused on our work and our agenda, we can start to view emails, text messages, or instant messages as interruptions to our day rather than as opportunities to interact and work with our teammates. We can miss the chance to make our team more productive in the interest of making ourselves more productive.
We can view the email, text, or IM simply as a task to accomplish and dash off a quick reply without thinking about how it might be read on the other side. That fast, simple reply can then become the seed of significant team conflicts.
You’re working with people, not bots.
As you work with remote team members, remember that they don’t cease to be people just because you don’t see them when you reply. They will apply their personal communication style (and probably not your style) to what you write.
We often refer to the DISC model for understanding how leaders and teams can interact more successfully. In many cases, our discussion around the model focuses primarily on face-to-face communication. Still, the model applies in remote settings, too. For example:
- If you’re very bottom line and they are not, your direct, to the point email might be rude and aggressive to them.
- If you hate details and they love them, your quick question with no validation might look to them like the request is not well thought out.
- If you prefer indirect requests and they don’t, you friendly and personal email might be annoyingly indirect for them.
- If you prefer data and details and they don’t, your long description of a problem might frustrate to them.
I’ll revisit this topic in future posts to address some specific challenges you might face with different communication styles as you build a remote team. For now, remember, there’s a person on the other end of that email.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Master Trainer and Co-Founder of DISCPersonalityTesting.com
Guy Harris is a co-author of From Bud to Boss, a Certified Human Behavior Specialist, a Master Trainer in the DISC Model of Human Behavior, and a Conflict Resolution Subject Matter Expert.