If you lead a remote team, here’s a quote about technology you should ponder. But maybe not for the reason you think:
“Technology gives us the facilities that lessen the barriers of time and distance – the telegraph and cable, the telephone, radio, and the rest.” Emily Green Balch, Nobel Prize Winning economist and sociologist.
There are two reasons that this quote (I think from her Nobel acceptance speech in 1946) is important for leaders.
The first lesson should be obvious. Technology exists not for its own sake, or because it’s cool, but because it serves the purpose of bridging time and distance. We pretty much need it to do our jobs. Not much news here.
But a deeper look at that quote offers something else for us to think about. When was the last time you sent a telegraph, a cable, or even listened to regular radio? There’s a lesson here. Technology changes, and a good leader needs to stay current in order to stay relevant.
This is not to say we need to be on the “bleeding edge” of technology or spend all our time reading “Wired” magazine or scrolling through Tech Crunch. But it’s important for leaders to be open to discussions of new tools.
There are plenty of reasons we don’t pay attention to such things:
- Most of us have been dealing with technology change all our lives. We remember the Betamax vs VHS debates, actually wasted our breath arguing that Macs were better so why is the company going to PCs, and thought Skype was cool but the company would never agree to use it. If we chased (or invested too much emotion) into every new tool that came along we’d lose our collective minds.
- We often don’t have a choice in what we use. Someone in IT decides to go with Microsoft Teams, and your personal devotion to Slack becomes pretty much irrelevant. And it’s hardly a hill to die on.
- What we have been using up to this point has more-or-less worked. People in general are more concerned about getting our work done with the least amount of disruption to our lives. Unless something is seriously not working, we don’t spend time seeking new solutions.
Here are a couple of things you might want to consider so that you aren’t wasting precious time and brain cells and can still recognize when new tools are needed.
Periodically check with your team for what’s working and what isn’t.
At least once a year, part of your team discussions should be about what systemic problems exist. Notice that you’re not simply asking “what tools should we use?” You will always have one geek who wants to try everything, and one curmudgeon who would quite happily still use carrier pigeons if they could get away with it. The question should be, “what communication challenges are we facing, and how can we improve them?”
Make sure that people are maximizing the current technology before chasing after new solutions.
The rule in software is that 80% of people will use only 20% of the features of any technology. Is the problem the tool, or that it’s not being leveraged effectively?
Rely on team members, regardless of their title.
Every team has “power users”—those who seem to know every little trick to get the most from their tools. On a remote team, they might be using their brilliance all alone and nobody knows what they’re doing. Getting people to share their best practices is an important function of meetings and team communication, but it seldom happens if the leader doesn’t create opportunities to do so.
Are you mindful of the tools you use? When was the last time you asked what’s working and what isn’t?
How well is your organization adapting to technological changes? Are you prepared to be successful working remotely? This free assessment will let you know where you stand.
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. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.