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5 Tips for Streamlining Communication with Remote Employees

Tell me if your day looks a little bit like this:

Wake up.

Lead a team meeting to define objectives for the day.

Have back-to-back meetings with each member of your team.

Answer emails you neglected all morning.

Lead a team meeting to recap the day’s progress.

Somehow start and finish tasks that were on your to-do list.

Does your calendar give you anxiety? Are you struggling to provide the feedback your employees need from you, especially as they try to maintain productivity when working from home, while also making strides on your own projects?

Balancing your tasks with solving people problems is perhaps the greatest management challenge. And recent work-from-home measures have only exacerbated the problem.

Many managers are working early mornings and late hours to make up for the time they’re spending in communication with remote employees during the day.

But, you don’t have to walk through your work day wearing galoshes and a swim cap because you’re feeling underwater.

Leadership Essentials asked 5 of today’s leading executives, business owners, and managers how they communicate effectively and efficiently with their staff.

  1. Put everything in writing.

David Cote, former CEO of Honeywell and chairman of Vertiv and author of Winning Now, Winning Later 

Whether people are working from home or in the office, they all deserve and the organization deserves your candor about how they are doing overall, and what their strengths and issues are. If someone is not doing a great job, you have to be direct with them ...and in writing....to ensure the message isn’t missed. People have an amazing ability to hear what they want to hear. Putting it in writing ensures the message isn’t missed. If you have a poor performer, don’t make it your life’s work to “fix “ it. Your job is to ensure they understand where they stand. Their job is to address it. You need to spend your time with the large majority of other people who will benefit from your direction and guidance. Finally, try to provide feedback whenever you do, in a way that the recipient is most likely to internalize. Some people have to be hit with a two by four to get their attention. With others, all you have to say is you’re capable of better work than this.

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  1. Reach out across various formats.

David Dye and Karin Hurt, owners of Let’s Grow Leaders, speakers, and authors of Courageous Cultures 

First, vary your communication styles and use the best type of communication for your message. Email or messaging platforms like Slack are ideal for brief, factual, content and answers to questions. However, when you need more bandwidth for potentially emotional conversations, to ensure understanding, or make decisions quickly with diverse input, turn on the cameras and talk in real time. Next, be sure you’re still holding regular one-on-one check-ins. Ask your employees to come prepared to share what they are doing (this tool will help).That way you can quickly connect and ensure they’re working on the most important priorities and give them real-time feedback. We’ve seen some of our clients get creative by mixing in creative options like two minute videos from leaders, short weekly internal podcasts, or quick videos from team members who share mutual encouragement and celebration.

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  1. Scale yourself by using your two greatest assets: technology and people.

Paul Falcone, Chief Human Resources Officer of Motion Picture and Television Fund and bestselling author of 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees

Coaching leadership will be the new muscle to build in terms of providing the right amount of structure, direction, and feedback to your team in a virtual work environment. First, understand that a project management mindset will help everyone focus their energies and efforts on garnering concrete achievements and accomplishments. Second, implement a SharePoint or Excel spreadsheet that gives everyone equal access for sharing their project goals, deadlines, roadblocks, and most important, their successes so that everyone can celebrate. Third, turn ‘staff meetings’ into ‘huddles’ that take less time and move more quickly. Faster dissemination of information will keep people connected without weighing them down.  

Finally, besides structured 1-on-1 touch base meetings with your direct reports, create weekly team gatherings to keep everyone in the loop and up to date as well as fun opportunities for peer collaboration (think video blogs) to keep people connected to one another and having one another’s backs. Pay it forward by building stronger leadership muscles among your staff members, assign rotating leadership roles for weekly meetings, and constantly ask them to reinvent the way you’re doing things to release their creative juices and innovation. Never let a crisis go to waste: reinvent your own brand of operational excellence, communication, and teambuilding in today’s virtual environment and help your people create new achievement bullets on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles as you all learn about and share the newest techniques and strategies for our newly designed workplace.

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  1. Use the power of negotiation to define your goal with any communication.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, CEO of Alignment Strategies Group and author of Optimal Outcomes 

For managers giving employees feedback within limited time constraints, my advice is to begin by negotiating with yourself first. By getting clear with yourself before you even have a conversation with others, you will save much time and energy. Here’s how:

Step 1: Negotiate with yourself. Even before you talk with your direct report, take a quiet moment to ask yourself three questions. First, what results are you hoping your direct report will achieve or produce? Second, what is ideal—in an ideal situation, what results would you expect? Third, what is reasonable, given the constraints of the situation, the time available, any competing demands you know about, and the skill level of the person or people involved? Finally, given your answers to these questions, clarify the results you hope your direct report will produce, and a reasonable timeline for achieving them.

Step 2: Negotiate with your direct report. Once you’ve gained clarity about your own hopes and expectations, it’s time to have a conversation with your direct report. A great place to begin is by asking your direct report some of the same questions you’ve already asked yourself. In an ideal world, what results would she hope to produce? What results does she hope to achieve given the constraints she’s under, whether due to limitations based on time, skills, resources, or other project priorities?

Step 3: Provide resources and agree on desired results. For any limitations she’s shared with you, offer to help her find the resources she’ll need to achieve the results. If you can’t provide those resources directly, can you connect her to other people, information, research, or training to help? Finally, as needed, share with her the results you hope she’ll produce, and agree on a set of results and a timeline that ideally works for you both.

  1. Make sure the measurement tools you use are efficient.

Brian Cole Miller, principal of Working Solutions, Inc. and author of Keeping Employees Accountable for Results

Measurement can take on a life all its own and end up costing more than is necessary or prudent. You don’t want measuring the goal to wipe out the benefits of your employee actually reaching that goal. Find measurement tools that minimize cost, time, and effort. Spend less money on measurement tools and still get useful data. The best measurements do not have to cost a fortune to be effective. Look for options that get the job done inexpensively.

For example, if the goal for a personal trainer is to ‘‘Help each client reach her or his personal fitness goals,” you could measure his or her performance by hiring people to pose as clients and get feedback from them on how the personal trainer is doing the job. This could be effective, but very costly. Rather than go to that expense, you could randomly poll the personal trainer’s clients for their candid assessments of his or her performance with them.

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