As part of preparing for my upcoming webinar How To Manage Remotely Located Teams (July 12) I’ve been conducting interviews with those who belong to and/or manage RLTs (remotely located teams.) I have managed this kind of team for years because my entire company is spread across the U.S., but I wanted to get the perspectives of others for this webinar.
Consequently, I interviewed Billy Donnay, a remote employee who works for Wells Fargo Bank. He’s responsible for designing and producing reports that help the bank monitor compliance and loan pricing programs.
He started off the interview by telling me that he just met his boss for the first time that week. The kicker is that he’s been working for him for more that 18 months. Being a Baby Boomer, I had some trouble getting my head around that concept, but for Billy, a 20-something millennial, he didn’t give it a second thought. He just shrugged and said, “It’s no big deal.” He said his boss and he have been communicating and working well together through email, phone, Skype, and Webex for 18 months so meeting him in person was pleasant but just didn’t seem all that necessary.
>>>I asked Billy what advice he would offer to people who manage RLTs and he emphatically replied: “COMMUNICATION – often and frequent.” He said it makes all the difference. He said his previous boss, whom he’d only met a couple of times too, rarely communicated with him and when he did, it was usually at the last minute in some project so Billy was always scrambling to complete or amend work. He said it also made him wonder if his boss or anyone else in the home office knew he was out here in what he said felt like the “wilderness.”
It makes me realize that there are some specific things that managers of RLTs be can do around this issue of communication to raise the odds of success. Here are ten that come to mind:
1. Be available. Make sure people know how to get in touch with and when to do it.
2. Hold regular team meetings. That way people know when they can talk to you if they can’t get hold of you before. It also helps you stay in the loop on the work.
3. Use technology to set up a virtual water cooler and then hang out there for a period of time every day, just so people can ask you questions or simply shoot the breeze with you and with each other team members. There are many products on the market that can help you do this. Just enter “remote team tools” into your search engine and you’ll get a smorgasbord of them.
4. Schedule regular meetings with each team member to discuss progress, give feedback, and address issues. How often? I’d say at least monthly though weekly is better. If you document these meetings, they can serve as the basis for the performance reviews of each team member.
5. Be careful about the tone of your emails. It’s easy to misconstrue the intent of an email when you only have the words to judge. When in doubt, pick up the phone, or better yet, set up a Skype or FaceTime conversation so the communication includes the tone of voice and facial expressions of all parties.
6. Try to schedule face-to-face team meetings at lease once per year. People work together better when they’ve spent some time with each other and had a chance to bond.
7. Remember that a picture is worth a 1000 words so if you have a document to discuss or a plan to make, instead of trying to describe it in an email or over the phone, use programs like Google Docs, Webex and Go To Webinar to share the document with whom ever you are discussing it.
8. Be sensitive to sharing time zones. If there are big differences, work with the team to come up with a meeting schedule that does not unduly burden one or more members. This is a fairness issue. You don’t want someone on the team grumbling because she always gets stuck with sitting in on team meetings at midnight her time.
9. Establish rules of communication. Since RLTs rarely interact face to face, they miss out on the contextual clues that clarify much of normal communication, so it’s vital to set some ground rules in place such as handling interruptions during meetings, managing distractions, and under what circumstances is it OK to call a special meeting.
10. Pick the right people. Not everyone is cut out to work from home or in a remotely located office. Be sure to discuss this with them before assigning them.