Having the right technology is one thing. Getting your remote team to use it consistently and correctly is quite another. All that investment into the latest and greatest software won’t yield any results if everyone isn’t on board. With that in mind, here are some ideas on how you can encourage the use of communication technology with your team.
Ask guiding questions
The truth about any kind of behavior is we get what we expect and what we inspect. That’s true whether we’re raising kids or dealing with colleagues at work. I think that there are three key questions to answer that will help establish those expectations and encourage our teams use a tool we’ve invested in.
- What are we trying to do?
- What work needs to be done?
- How do we communicate in a way that’s going to achieve our goals?
If the team is answering those questions, then the automatic response will be, “Okay, we need ways to share information in a hurry. What tools do we have to do that?” That will naturally guide them to the tools we’ve set up for them to use.
Anticipating and coaching through opposition
Without fail, someone will protest, “Well, I hate instant messaging,” or “I hate this tool or that tool.” But because you’ve decided as a team that these are the goals we want to accomplish, it’s easier to respond with “these are the tools we have to use.”
The next critical step is setting up clear processes for training. It’s easy and common to criticize what we don’t understand. Once that hurdle is cleared, adopting a new practice is relatively easy.
We as leaders also need to be intentional in how we encourage team members. That includes nuggets of praise for those using the tools correctly, and most importantly, setting the example by using the tools ourselves.
If there are still those holding out, coaching is the next step. Preferably, employ peer coaching. Since you have team members being successful with these tools, simply let them share what they’re doing. This kind of peer-to-peer mentoring is much more effective and far less threatening than sending word down “from on high.” If you step in right away, even with good intentions, your team member might interpret that as an ultimatum to “use it or lose it.”
Establish the expected rules rules and etiquette
This is not an area to overlook. There are many loose threads in how these tools are collectively used that can cause major problems if not addressed right out of the gate. What’s the expected response time to a Slack message? How long do we wait for someone to join a Skype call before commencing the meeting? What’s the process for filling in people who can’t attend remote meetings?
These are so important that I recommend remote teams set up a “communications charter” that becomes a guideline for future use. It’s a mutually agreed upon set of expectations that heads off confusion and disappointment down the road and keeps everyone accountable to their teammates.
Hold people accountable
All of this looks great on paper, but unless you as a leader hold everyone (including yourself) accountable, it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on. Again, coaching plays a big role here. Either through peer-to-peer mentoring or through your own coaching, those struggling to adopt or utilize the technology need your help.
If we honestly discuss what needs to be done and how we’re going to do it, if we set expectations around which tools get used and when, and hold people accountable, we’ll see a tremendous return on the investment we make in communications technology. Most importantly, we’ll see our remote teams function as effectively (or maybe more!) as they could if they were seated next to each other in the same office.
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.</em