How to Guide Your Off-Site Team By More Connection, Goal Clarity and Feedback
If you lead a team in any capacity—as project leader, manager, or subject matter expert, you can’t let physical distance be an excuse for not setting clear direction or avoiding giving feedback. Otherwise, your rocket ship of work goals will veer off course and burn up precious fuel—time, money, and morale.
The challenge OK, this is hard. Almost everyone is at home now—full time—and some leaders feel handicapped by not having face-to-face visits with customers, co-workers and/or contractors. Some are used to working apart from many they talk to and don’t feel their work is all that different than it used to be. But most leaders are used to more face-to-face rapport than they have now, during the Coronavirus.
The big difference between working in the same office with someone and having to rely on phone calls or emails is the loss of connection. When we are able to see people in person, it is much easier to read facial expressions and body language while we talk. This is way bigger than most of us imagine. Experts estimate that over 80% of communication is transmitted through these non-verbal channels.
What you need to do You must find ways to make up for the loss of in-person communication. You can
use tools that bring back the non-verbal channels,
rely on voice qualities (feelings you can sense from how they talk) to give you some of these non-verbal cues, and
work extra hard to clarify goals and over-emphasize the messages they might be missing when you rely on emails, texts, and written media.
Solution #1: Online video tools Those already working remotely from co-workers have often adopted online video tools such as Slack, Zoom, Asana, Skype, FaceTime, and several Google tools. If you have access to them already, become a power user of them. Find out which ones are easy for you to access. Choose one or more of these now, as it helps you stay close to people and increases the clarity of every conversation. Use these tools for both team meetings and one on one conversations.
It may seem like a hassle, but these are tools are cheap and if you can be open-minded and patient, they’re easy to learn. If your organization already has one of these tools up and running, take the time to read the easily-available information. Watch YouTube instructional videos or get a colleague to coach you. Some of these platforms even have amazing customer support services! Even if you are the only one in your group using a video tool, it’s so worth insisting on it.
After you start meeting with individuals, the whole team, and other groups and you’re able to “see” their faces and expressions on the live video, you will actually feel better and more able to guide people and achieve goals productively.
Solution #2: Have frequent one-on-one calls with each of them I can just hear how frustrated hearing this makes you. Precious time is absorbed with more frequent calls: Calls to just say hi and check in, calls to discuss their goals and tasks, and calls for collaborative problem solving. All will hugely pay off: just humor me and try it! Also you will need to exchange regular “everyday feedback” (not literally every day but spontaneous, no-big-deal feedback) that helps steer their work and helps you improve too. A best practice recommended for global project teams is to set a “rhythm” for calls and emails. They can count on a check-in call on Tuesday morning, say. It also works for regular informal emails you might send to everyone on a Monday morning or other time. The rhythm helps them feel connected and it heightens trust among everyone in the group. You can ask people to Reply All if appropriate.
Solutions #3: Exaggerate the amount of time you need for getting clear on goals and priorities Not only should you ask each team member what they’re focusing on now and to articulate their goals, but help them work through possible conflicting priorities and make crystal clear goals that have changed and new information from upper management about what is important this week. Get a sense of what is creating delays or problems and have a very open-minded conversation about how to proceed. If their work is impacting other team members, help them plan out how they will communicate faster with the others or offer to facilitate a meeting.
Your role has shifted You are now a clarity manager, in charge of helping each member, and the whole group accomplish the work goals without the cues they have shared before. And you will probably have to re-prioritize your other tasks to make this happen. Time management is a whole other topic we’ll tackle in future blogs….
I ask you to take out a week to try all of these things and let other duties be delegated or re-scheduled. Connect big time, and overemphasize goal clarity! You will gain better connections with everyone and you’ll have positive feelings of camaraderie and shared accomplishment.
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— Mark Holzbach, Creative and Tech Community Connector, Co-Founder, Zebra Imaging