I am a sociable person; I like going for dinner and drinks with friends, going to parties, and making new connections. I have good relationships with many people all over the world. But when I’m not hearing from my remote team often, it’s great.
This may seem surprising. Most of the time, the advice for engaging with telecommuters is to over-communicate.
Some say, “We don’t want people working from home to feel isolated, so we need to check in more often.”
Others are fearful, explaining, “Our office workers may feel contempt toward remote workers, so we need to get them talking to each other.”
While these aren’t terrible suggestions, they do miss the point of remote work. It’s right there in the term I just used: the purpose of remote work is to get work done.
Much of the communication we do in traditional work environments is out of convenience. It’s easier to yell over a cubicle wall than it is to look something up yourself. We can quickly pull people together for an impromptu meeting by grabbing them at their desks. Conversations or email threads can go on for days, covering the same topics repeatedly, because there’s no urge to be precise when you can just as easily get clarification.
However, communicating with remote employees requires clarity and precision; circling back to confirm something takes more effort. (It’s even harder when the hours they work don’t match up to our own.) On-site teams and remote workers often get into long exchanges to get answers or resolve problems. It’s bad in person, and it’s worse when people have to do it at a distance. It’s good to follow-up when you’re not sure, but a better question might be: why weren’t you sure in the first place?
In our firm, remote workers get things done because they have exceptionally clear instructions. They know what’s expected of them, and they know what the company needs to move forward. That means I don’t hear from them unless there is a problem. Since we’ve been working together a long time, there is almost never a problem! Work gets completed, and the emails are few and far between.
Some people might think this sounds like a lonely existence for our remote team. The truth is quite the opposite.
Since we don’t spend much of our social capital at work, they have more energy in their personal lives to be sociable with their friends and families. And that’s really how it should be, since these people selected us because they like the work and were selected by us because they are good at it. We didn’t choose them to be our friends, and while it’s fine if that happens, it’s fine if it doesn’t, too.
I personally love that I don’t hear from our remote team that often. What I also love is that we’ve found the right people to get the work done, and that they enjoy doing it. It’s a great relationship, but it’s based on work and mutual respect, not on hours and hours of long conversations.
And isn’t work and mutual respect what all of us really want at the modern organization anyway?
About the Author:
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. Robby runs a business improvement consulting company. His focus is helping organizations and individuals to become more efficient, more effective and more satisfied at work. Robby is a regular contributor in several regional magazines and has been interviewed by national publications such as the Wall Street Journal. His latest book is The Unbeatable Recipe for Networking Events. You can read more and see a complete list of books here.