Communication is Key for Managing Remote Employees

According a new study by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, authors of the bestsellers Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability, communicating and working from different locations via technology is especially challenging for remote workers.

Fifty-two percent of the 1,153 respondents in the study who work remotely feel their colleagues don’t treat them equally. Specifically, remote employees feel that colleagues don’t fight for their priorities, say bad things about them behind their back, and make changes to the project without warning them.

“Our research over the past three decades proves the health and success of any team is determined by the quality of communication between colleagues,” says Maxfield. “Teams that can hold candid and effective dialogue – minus the emotions and politics – experience higher morale and results like better quality, shorter time-to-market, better decision making, etc.”

“When managers model stellar communication, the rest of the team follows suit,” says Grenny. “You can’t overestimate the influence a manager has on his or her team’s ability to engage in dialogue and create a collaborative and healthy culture.”

Grenny and Maxfield say managers who use the following skills to communicate with remote employees is the first step to ensure their teams happier, healthier and more successful.

  • Frequent and Consistent Check-ins. Check-ins can vary from daily to bi-weekly to weekly but should be consistent and entail a standing meeting or scheduled one-on-one.
  • Face-to-Face or Voice-to-Voice. Make a visit to remote employees or schedule a mandatory in-office day once a week, month, quarter or year. If in-person meetings are not possible, at a minimum use video conferencing technology or pick up the phone to ensure colleagues occasionally see one another’s face or hear one another’s voice.
  • Exemplify Stellar Communication Skills. The most successful managers are good listeners, communicate trust and respect, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging, and err on the side of over-communicating.
  • Explicit Expectations. Managers who are direct with their expectations of both remote and onsite employees have happier teams that can deliver to those expectations.
  • Always Available. Successful managers maintain an open-door policy for both remote and onsite employees – making themselves available across multiple time zones and through multiple means of technology, often tailoring their communication style and medium to each employee.
  • Prioritize Relationships. Good managers go out of their way to form personal bonds with remote employees so the whole team can create personal connections and strengthen relationships.