Focusing despite technology is a constant struggle for many remote workers. Communicating clearly and efficiently is vital for remote leaders, but when emails and instant messaging pings distract our focus every few seconds, it’s similar to trying to find an elusive address during a rainstorm.
Here’s what I mean: Have you ever driven late at night, in the pouring rain, looking for an address, and had to turn down the radio so you can “see” better?
Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. We turn off the music, not so we can “see”, but because we need to direct our focus to the task at hand. The same thing happens in meetings and day-to-day work with our remote teams.
Here are some ways to limit the distractions technology creates:
Email is the “radio” in this example. When having a one-on-one coaching session or a team meeting, specifically request that everyone (that includes you) turns off any distractions. Email and instant messaging are important, but conducting a meeting is even more crucial. When we realize it’s more effective to handle the task at hand rather than indulge our Pavlovian responses to the incoming message, we’ll develop the discipline to focus and do better work in less time.
Develop “muscle memory” when it comes to the technology. When we learned to drive, everything we did took concentration. We looked at the dashboard, we looked in the mirror, and had to think about all those actions. Now we do it all in split seconds, and often without realizing we did it.
That’s because it’s become “muscle memory” and doesn’t require as much of our active brain. That frees us up for high-level thinking. By the way, it only takes about half a dozen times using something like the Whiteboard in WebEx to develop those skills. The bad part is you can’t develop them any other way.
This goes for your audience, too. The more your team uses a technology tool as part of their every day work, the less of a distraction it is. My partner at the Remote Leadership Institute, Kevin Eikenberry, has a great example of this. Skype was a favorite communication tech tool when working with his team, and he never insisted on using webcams, unless it was critical that he look them in the eye. Word got out that if he asked them to use their webcams, the meeting was really important, and probably bad news. By using it for every occasion, it removed the stress associated with using the tool.
Have someone else drive. The simplest way to find that address is to have someone keep their eyes on the road while you scan for that elusive house number. Or you can drive and have them look. Either way, if you can offload some of the technology distractions (delegating an associate as the time monitor to let you know when you’re getting off track, or even writing on the whiteboard for you), it frees you up to do your job more effectively.
As a remote leader, technology is the way you communicate. It should be a conduit to better information flow, not a bottleneck that constricts it. Until they develop a GPS for teams, it’s up to you to adapt when focusing despite technology.
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.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.