If you’ve ever had small children, you know that moment when all the chaos and noise stops and it’s…too…quiet. You immediately go in search of the little hellions, because they must be up to something, and you’re not sure you want to know what it is. Managing a remote team can be a little like that. Silence is often not necessarily good news.
When things suddenly get quiet, there’s a tendency to enjoy the moment. No crises, no panicky emails or voicemails, you can get your own work done for a change. However, when you lead in a remote environment, you need all the information you can get. A sudden change in the amount, type or flow of information may be a sign of trouble ahead.
When you work in the same location, you pick up signs of tension on the team. Conversations might stop when certain people enter the room (maybe even you!), or voices get snippy. Most of us can walk into an area and “feel the tension” in the air, even if we can’t tell exactly what’s going on.
The challenge with picking up those subtle signs when you work remotely is that most people find it easier to just avoid trouble when they don’t have to be in physical proximity to each other. One of the most common negative behaviors teams exhibit when things go wrong is exclusion: not including people in written communication, or “forgetting” to invite them to certain meetings. Maybe people tune out and stop contributing in meetings or on conference calls.
It’s what you’re NOT hearing that is the most obvious sign of trouble between team members when they don’t share a physical space, and as your Logic professor taught you, it’s hard to prove a negative. Here are some things to watch for:
- Are there sudden changes in the volume of email communication? Are you suddenly getting a big increase in “cc:s” from a team member with no explanation? It may be a sign that they are experiencing miscommunication with the actual recipient of the message, and think that either having your name on it will increase the chance of a response, or they’re laying the groundwork for a complaint down the road.
- Have people suddenly stopped contributing in meetings? If you usually rely on a person’s input, but they’re quiet in your last meeting, it might be nothing at all. If they are quiet for several meetings in a row, or when you request input you get “nope, I’m good,” with no further explanation, there may be more at work here than it seems.
- Are you constantly having to remind people to copy or invite another person on communication? When there are problems between people, one of the most common ways of handling the tension is to simply avoid talking to them. That’s way easier to do when you don’t have to see each other in the cube farm or the break room. Exclusion and avoidance are simple, confrontation-free (for a while at least) ways to just not have to deal with someone. It’s also corrosive over time. Are your team members avoiding one another?
- Do they come to you when they should be going to each other? This is often difficult for managers to recognize, because we are always trying to maintain open communication with our people and usually welcome the chance to stay in touch with them. But are people coming to you, rather than asking each other for assistance? It might be because they want your wisdom, or it might be because they’re not sure _____ is going to help or give them good information.
It takes a conscious effort to listen for what isn’t being said. As any parent of small children will tell you, though, it’s a skill you can—and should—develop.
The Remote Leadership Certificate Series is the complete package when it comes to successfully managing a remote team. You’ll learn the practical skills to lead remote employees, virtual teams and mobilized work forces. The Series teaches techniques and methods to effectively motivate and manage virtual employees and teams with ease and success. LEARN MORE HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.