Recently, Wayne Turmel sat down with Tom Crea on his podcast “Your Evolving Leadership Journey.” Wayne and Tom discussed a number of challenges facing remote teams and their leaders today. You can catch the full episode here. This is the third and final part of that interview. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.
Tom: Relationships are about building bridges. As a leader, if you’re going to build a bridge you can’t go into the relationship with a 50/50 attitude or that bridge will never form. What are your thoughts?
Wayne: There are two things you said… One is you’ve got to take the responsibility. I call it the 51 percent rule where you know you are responsible. It’s not 50/50, you are responsible as a leader whether you have the title or not. The second thing is one of the words that comes up in our research. We heard it from both managers and workers. That’s proactivity. You need to be proactive about communication.
If you have the sense that’s something is wrong, you have to reach out and deal with it. One of the things we see in remote workers is a fear of “looking stupid.” There’s a fear there that if I’m not totally autonomous as a remote worker, I might lose the privilege. That means some remote workers won’t be the one to reach out to the boss because of that fear. That can lead to digging oneself into a very deep hole.
As a leader you need to do two things: First, you need to make it safe for people to raise a hand and say, “Hey, I have a question.” The second is you need to be proactive about reaching out and asking, “What are you working on this morning?” And that’s not a check-up thing. It’s an invitation, an outreach where you’re saying, “How can I help you?”
Tom: Remote teams have a tendency to get very transactional with their relationships because of how they view their time. Can you talk a little about that?
Wayne: On remote teams we tend to treat time as an extremely limited commodity. We limit some of that relationship building conversation that happens naturally when you work in the office together. I’ll give you a couple of simple examples. We don’t pass each other by the coffee pot and say, “Sorry about your Raiders yesterday.” We don’t ask each other, “How’s the family?” If you’re on a virtual team, you don’t have that social lubrication, that social interaction that actually helps us get to know, like and trust each other. You have to build that time in because it’s critical.
Tom: Let’s say you’re going to coach an employee. If meetings are normally an hour, should you schedule 75 minutes with the remote employee?
Wayne: Again it’s about treating people equally, not treating them the same. If I am coaching you in the office what do I do? I’m sitting there face to face with you and we’re seeing each other’s body language and it’s interactive and all of that stuff. But when I go to coach my remote employees, so much of that non-verbal stuff is missing. We don’t take the time to do that social interaction thing.
Tom: What if the leader is the one who’s working remotely, for example, sales.
Wayne: That’s a common example. The sales manager has a huge territory and all the reps are in an office together somewhere. When the manager is the one who’s working remotely there are a couple of added things. One is that as a leader you need to have people that you can bounce ideas off of. You need to have somebody who offers ideas that aren’t your own.
Tom: It’s been a privilege talking to you, Wayne. I want to encourage everyone to pick up a copy of The Long Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.
You can catch the entire interview on Tom’s podcast site.