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Motivating a Virtual Team

People do things for 2 key reasons – to avoid pain or receive pleasure. Or at least that is what we used to think. However many books (such as Help! I’m a Manger by Arnold Mol or Drive by Daniel H. Pink) have been written on the subject, and after numerous behavioral studies across many years, it turns out those reason may not really be motivation.

If a donkey is standing in a field and I want it to move to the other side of the field, I can get it to do so by hitting it on the rump with a stick, or dangling a carrot in front of it – the carrot or stick approach. However, that is different than if the donkey decides to go to the other side of the field because it wants to. The former is not really motivation, it is movement. It is getting the donkey to move from one point to the other. The latter is truly motivation.

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As Arnold Mol points out in his book, when a person carries out a task due to a reward or for punishment avoidance, they are being moved. It doesn’t mean that they like the work they are performing, but they are willing to do it for the sake of what they can get (or avoid) by doing it. However, when a person carries out a task because they truly want to, it is true motivation, not movement.

This is a key thing to keep in mind when working with a virtual team, because movement must be constantly re-charged, whereas motivation is more self-charged. If you give your employee an extra bonus for doing an extra project, in future, when you ask them to do another extra project, their response will be “show me the money.” This is the carrot approach which only leads to movement. However, if someone completes an extra project because they are proud of what they can accomplish, then you have achieved true motivation, and they will gladly embrace future extra projects.
Motivating a Virtual Team

A virtual team doesn’t always get the same things to drive them in their work that those in an office environment get, such as Halloween custom contest, free Friday Pizza lunch, birthday celebration in the break room, etc….  Therefore it is more critical that managers find ways to truly motivate employees so that it is self-charged by the employee.

So how do you achieve true motivation for your employees? It all comes down to pride. This comes from feeling good about abilities and accomplishments. Remote managers need to arouse that feeling of self-esteem to best motivate employees. The key areas where a manager can motivate through pride include:

  • Ownership/pride in client, company, and work
  • Pride and appraisal in job
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Control in job – decision making, idea sharing

By focusing on these key areas you can truly motivate rather than move your virtual team of employees, which will give you long term positive results.[/wlm_ismember]

Why remote teams need an accountability system – a story

When working with remote teams, it is easy to fall into a micromanagement role, constantly inquiring about every task to make sure it gets accomplished. This actually leads to the opposite of your goal; employees take less responsibility and accountability to reach the goals and tasks. How does this happen?

I have done a lot of management consulting for many different companies over the years. In one instance I was at a company’s multi-day corporate sales meeting. During that meeting, every time they gave a 10 minute break, at the 10 minute mark, the Vice President would tell all of the managers to go out into the building and round up their sales teams, so they would come back to the room and start the meeting. This was ineffective for several reasons:

  • The managers couldn’t spend their own break doing anything productive because they had to be ready to go gather their employees
  • The managers resented their employees because their employees couldn’t be accountable for their own time and they had to “babysit” them
  • The employees never looked at their watch to see when the 10 minute break was up for them to return. Why should they when their manager would come get them.
  • However, the employees resented the fact that their manager had to come tell them to return – “What were they, children?”

During the next break, I pulled the VP and managers aside and told them we were going to change strategy. After the 10 minutes was up, we were going to close the doors and start the meeting as planned, rather than rounding people up. If the sales people were not back, too bad.

After 10 minutes, only the VP and managers were back in the room. They closed the door and started the meeting. After another 10 minutes or so, the sales people started looking at their watches and wondering what was taking their managers so long to come get them. “Maybe they should go back to the meeting room to see what was going on.”

At the 20 minute mark, sales people started to return to the meeting room, realizing they were late and interrupting the meeting already in progress by walking in the room.

However, something very different happened after the next break – 95% of all sales people came back on time, after 10 minutes, without prompting from their managers.

As soon as they were held accountable by the potential embarrassment of being late or interrupting a meeting, they took responsibility to look at their own watches and meet the deadline.

You need to have some sort of accountability system in place for your remote teams, or else you ultimately have to be that system, which leads to micro-management and resentment from your team. The accountability system can be as simple as a weekly summary of progress they submit to you, or a dashboard where they enter their weekly goal obtainments. But in either case, it has to be driven by them and done frequently. Taking this approach builds the team’s responsibility for their actions, and frees up your time to focus on more important management tasks, ultimately keeping your team running productively.

Setting Expectations for Communications with Remote Teams

Communication is key in a Remote Team. Because it doesn’t happen automatically by sharing the same space in an office, it needs additional attention to ensure remote teams communicate effectively. This may entail setting some expectations around how you want the team to communicate including:

  1. Communication Frequency – Let the team know how often you’d like them to check in or touch base with you and each other each week. This will give those that tend to work silently a goal to strive toward.
  2. Communication Schedules – Set a weekly schedule for a team call as well as individual calls with each team member. This gives them a set time when they know they can share ideas, as well as get individual attention from you. It will help them plan for a more effective discussion if they know a consistent day and time.
  3. Working Hours – Remote employees may often work more varied hours than those in an office. However, it is OK as a manager to set key work hours that you expect them to be available for communication between team members and with you.
  4. Email Response Times – When you send an email to your team asking for feedback or information, how soon do you expect them to respond if you don’t set a specific deadline on the email? Within 6 hours? 1 day? 1 week? Set a team standard for when everyone should respond to emails from co-workers and you so there is no confusion on expectations.
  5. Communicating Goals and Progress – To help hold team members accountable to goals, post those goals, along with the team’s ongoing progress and obtainments in a place that everyone can view and share. Use this “Dashboard” to display the ongoing metrics and use it for discussion during weekly calls.

Setting clear communication expectations keeps the team engaged even when not in the same location. It will ensure there is no confusion on what is needed to keep them successful.

How to be a Successful Remote Employee

I’m often asked what employees need to learn about working remotely. The majority of success for a remote team is dependent on management – how the team is managed and the systems in place to support them. However there is one key area that remote employees can focus on: their visibility.

Remote EmployeeWhen an employee is not physically in a company office every day, it can be easy to lose sight of what they are doing, and how they are contributing to the company, for those that do not work directly with that employee. As well, remote workers have a concern that they will be “out of sight and out of mind” when it comes to company opportunities, promotions, etc. . . Here are some key ways that remote employees can ensure their work and efforts are highly visible to the company:

  • Tele-presence – Your tele-presence is your phone presence. Since you can’t talk to people face to face when you are working remotely, the phone needs to do that for you. We are often hesitant to pick up the phone unless we feel we have significant information to share, but we will more likely walk down the hall to chat with someone in a more minor thing. When we work off-site, we often resort to email for the more minor items. This is ok to do occasionally, but if you drastically reduce your verbal communication when teleworking, you need a different strategy. Jot down and collect ideas and notes on items you want to discuss with people, on a daily or weekly basis.   Then, rather than sending emails, pick up the phone to cover the multiple topics. This gives the call more substance, will save you time, from writing multiple emails, and will ensure better quality communication.
  • Remote Access – You want to ensure you can access all network tools remotely when you are not in the office. Can you handle e-mails, access shared files, and any other company information that you would gather when in the office? If not, figure out how you can leverage technology to do so. If you find yourself saying “That can wait until I’m back in the office”, because you don’t have your needed files or access, then you are not leveraging your remote access effectively.
  • SharePoint – Use your corporation’s Intranet such as SharePoint, to keep you visible. Post responses to discussion boards, post pictures and documents, or share blog articles. Have a sub-site created to collaborate with your team on a project.
  • Team Engagement – are you a team player? Do you support team members when they are struggling? You involvement with your team will not only increase your visibility with your team, but also with your company. The more successful your team is as a whole, the more you will be noticed. Also, find opportunities to build stronger relationships with those on your team. If you feel you don’t know someone well, call them to share ideas, work on a project together, or just talk to get to know each other better.
  • Solution Driven – Are you driven to find answers, or do you get hung up on the problem or why it can’t be done? Rather than presenting issues to others, always have some possible solutions and options to present with the issue. Don’t present issues for others to solve, but instead use them as a way to orchestrate your own creative results.
  • SelfDriven – Those that take action rather than waiting to be led by the hand, get the most visibility.   Take initiative – don’t wait for others to motivate you, create projects and tasks for you, or give you ideas. Leaders drive positive change and results rather than just being involved in them. As long as you work within your company and team’s guidelines, create opportunities to increase their success, and ultimately yours.

By focusing on these key items, remote employees can increase their visibility and ultimate success when working remotely.

Managing Performance – Keeping a Remote Team on the Right Track

How do you keep a remote team on the right track and in-line with the company and team needs? How do you ensure they understand how to perform and know how they are performing?

You can keep your team focused toward reaching the same goals and achieving them, by following a 5 tiered hierarchal structure that moves from vision setting to performance ranking.

  1. vision02Vision – Would you rather be inspired to reach toward a clear purpose, or would you rather have someone pushing you from behind telling you to move faster and work harder? Your vision is that bright purpose that you want to be the inspiration for your employees to strive toward. You might use your company vision as a catalyst for your own team, but rather than trying to make it a fancy marketing type statement, just make it a sentence or two on what you are really trying to accomplish as a team.

    When asked, most employees could not recite their company’s vision or mission statement. Most companies spend countless dollars and hours coming up with a company vision or mission statement, but do a poor job ensuring that it is a driving force in the company or that the employees even know it. Once you create your team vision it needs to be reinforced whenever possible. Emphasize it in conversations and meetings with employees, to ensure they know the team’s purpose and the meaning is not lost.

  2. Expectations – The second step is to let your employees know how they can help reach that vision. A vision can be esoteric and it is easy for employees to self-interpret how to reach it. If you tell your team to “think strategically,” that can mean very different things to different people. Expectations are the ways your team can reach that vision such as: “identify company competitive advantages and create plans to market them.” Make sure you clearly define what the team is expected to do to reach that vision.

  3. Goal Setting – Once expectations are set, create specific goals for each employee that can be tracked on a weekly basis, that helps reach these expectations. If the expectation is to “increase company sales,” how does that breakdown for the employee? Do they need to make X number of sales calls a week? Do they need to find a new way to position a product each week? These goals should be SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, results oriented, timeframe) that they report their progress toward, each week to you.

    Numeric goals such as sales KPIs are always easy to set, but setting goals for more intangibles such as “strategic thinking” or “team player,” can be tougher. To do this, think about what the behavior of a strategic thinker or team player would look like, and find a way to set goals around this. If a team player is someone who helps others on the team, then set a goal for you employee to list 2 things each week that they helped teammates on. This will get them in the pattern of this behavior.

  4. Performance Reviews – almost all managers dread performance reviews. That’s because they are done incorrectly. The best performance reviews are: 1) done quarterly, 2) initiated by the employee, 3) don’t include numeric rating systems, 4) are really a goal setting conversation between the manager and employee. Too often performance reviews are an annual event where the manager tries to think up clever phrases to support the number they gave the employee under each category: communication, motivation, etc. . . Instead have the employee list what they would like to focus on and accomplish over the next 90 days, as well as a review of how they did with their past quarter goals.

    Then discuss these with the employee giving them feedback and guidance in the discussion. By making these a working planning session, you will get better content and a more collaborative relationship, and the employee will have a much stronger understanding of where they should be going, and how they are doing. No one has ever gotten a good understanding of how they could “communicate better” (or how they were successfully communicating) because they got a “3” on a review.

  5. Performance Grid Plotting – So if we don’t rate employees with a numeric system on their reviews, how do we understand how they rate in the overall scheme of the company? The most accurate way to understand how employees are doing as part of the whole, is to plot them on a grid (that measures both performance and potential), on where you think they would fall. From top performance/potential, to lowest. Then get together with other managers (ideally 1-2 times per year), and discuss why you would rate each person as such.

    This gets all managers on the same page as to what they think constitutes a top player vs a bottom achiever, and often times, managers may shift where they think their employees fall, during these meetings. This rating grid should never be shown to employees. Instead it is a management tool to help each manager know where they need to focus, with each of their employees. 

Using this progressive tiered plan will keep the messaging and goals clear, as well has ensure a consistent way to track and measure performance.

Creating Accountability with a Distributed Workforce

When the term Micro-Manager is mentioned, it incites painful ideas of a manager that is smothering, controlling and demotivating. But the conundrum for most managers of field teams or distributed workforces is how to ensure that the job is getting done without over managing. Because a team of employees, spread across multiple locations, is not as easy to monitor with drop-in daily observations, like a centrally located team, many managers can overcompensate by trying to over control those things that they cannot see. Manager’s want their teams to reach all set goals, but without smothering them.
The key to ensuring management’s happiness with a team’s performance levels as well as the team’s happiness with their ability to spread their wings, is a combination of clearly outlining goals, creating responsibility, and generating individual accountability.

Setting the vision & creating expectations
Create VisionA good vision creates inspiration and motivation for a team which creates the catalyst to drive a team’s performance. When setting a vision, keep it at top level goals, not the specific tasks it takes to reach them (this is covered next). Because a remote team is more at risk for feeling disconnected from the company, they can tend to focus more time and energy on things that they perceive to be important but that might not really be of the most importance to the team or company. So setting a vision, and keeping a remote team focused on it, is critical to the team and company’s success.

Once the vision is set and communicated, expectations need to be created to define how the remote team will reach that vision. Every employee wants to do a good job, but they need to know what that looks like to obtain it. Creating the expectations, lets each employee know what they need to do to be successful, and what the end picture will look like.

Creating Responsibility
If you give someone the responsibility, they will more likely than not live up to it. However, if you don’t trust them with the responsibility, then they will never have a chance to reach it. Take a simple scenario observed at a corporate meeting where all sales people across the country met semi-annually to discuss the new product line and strategy. At this meeting, for the first 2 days, after every 10 minute break, the regional managers would go out to find their employees and alert them that the break was over and they needed to get back into the meeting room. As a result, over 75% of the sales reps never returned on time to the meeting and waited for their manager to alert them to return. They were conditioned that the manager would let them know, so they didn’t need to take the responsibility to look at their watches to see when 10 minutes was up. This approach removed the responsibility from the sales reps and placed it on the regional managers.

On the 3rd and 4th days, the regional managers took a different approach; they didn’t alert anyone when breaks were over and just started the meeting on time – even if everyone was not in the room. Those that arrived late (after the allotted 10 minutes for the break) had to disrupt the meeting to get to their seat. Those that arrived late more than once over the 2 days, were pulled aside on the next break for a discussion with the manager on the importance of being on time. By the end of the 4th day and the last (5th day) of the meeting, not one employee returned late to the meeting after break times. With the regional managers shifting the responsibility to the sales reps, it freed up their (the managers) time and made the sales reps responsible for their own actions. The key to this was setting the expectation and holding them accountable if they didn’t reach it.

This is a good example of a micro vs non-micro management approach. Releasing yourself from these micro management tasks frees up your time to focus on more important things. Increasing team member responsibility creates less management needs.

Accountability – Micro-monitoring vs micro-managing
Setting clear goals is like a virtual manager that keeps everyone focused without having to constantly look over their shoulder. However if you set these goals but don’t implement some sort of accountability and tracking system, YOU will ultimately have to be that system. This means a very time consuming, management intensive process of nagging employees, to inquire on how they are doing toward their goals, and micro-managing to ensure goals are met. The more you can empower your employees to track their own progress (with a simple delivery method to you), the better results you will get:

  • They will manage themselves
  • They will be more self motivated to reach their goals
  • You will empower them to be responsible for themselves which will demonstrate your respect and trust for them
  • You can free up your time to work with them on more productive items such as their talent development

Shared accountability creates a feeling of partnership with each team member. It also enables people to learn from both their successes and mistakes. So rather than micro-managing a team, a manager can enable them to micro-monitor their own individual performance.

To do this successfully, managers need to implement a tool that helps employees track their own progress. This tool should also be something that they can deliver to you with minimal effort. It should not be too time consuming and should be easy to decipher for both you and your employee. An Excel spreadsheet or Word table are good vehicles, or possibly an automated intranet system if that is available to the company. These should be completed and submitted weekly and monthly to keep everyone on track. Here are some things to consider when deciding what goals you would like them to track:

  1. Specific – Clearly outline the details of each goal so they know what to strive for.
  2. Measurable – they must be measurable. What will the successful completion of the goal look like? If it is subjective “Need to get better client service ratings”, there is room for argument on if they have succeeded on the goal. Is a .01% better rating successful? It could be argued that it is a better rating than 0. Instead set a metric such as “Need to have at least 85% excellent client ratings.
  3. Attainable – on the flip side, if goals are too hard, where more than likely most people won’t reach them, then people won’t feel motivated to reach them. Ie. “Increase your business by 100% this year”
  4. Results Oriented – if a goal is something that everyone does anyway “put details of each transaction in the system every day”, then it isn’t very motivating and becomes more of a busy work task in tracking it. These are processes in how things should be done in the business, but not a performance goal. These types of things should just be noted in an overall team process handbook, or in training. Make sure goals are geared to motivate people to stretch.
  5. Time Based – This can be another subjective area. It need to be clear and concise on when each metric should be obtained. “You need to have at least 85% excellent client ratings by the last day of the month.” Everyone is better motivated when they can keep a deadline date or timeframe in sight.

Once the goals are set, and a self-monitoring matrix system is put in place to track goals, set time frames on when each employee should deliver their tracked goals to you electronically. Then spend a portion of your regular communication with them reviewing the overview of the goals. Don’t fall into the trap of going through each individual item with them. Look at the matrix obtainments from a balcony view, to discuss trends or patterns with them. This will allow you to look at how their performance is doing overall, and coach them on their overall progress.

What can be monitored – how can we monitor it?
What must be managed – how can we manage it?
It is important as a manager to identify what can be monitored by the individual team members, and then create a tracking matrix that they use to deliver their progress. This will set their responsibility and create the accountability system. Start by identifying tasks and goals that they can track themselves, to enable them to micro-monitor themselves and free you up from micro-management. Secondly, it is important to identify what items must be managed because they cannot be self-monitored by an employee performance tracking system. Because enabling micro-monitoring through your employees will free up your management time, use it to focus on more of the talents that are critical to the team, but harder to track quantitatively. Look for qualitative things that are important to the business, to focus your management and coaching efforts with each employee on, such as: team work, creative ideas and innovations, strategic thinking, positive attitude, etc…

Micro-Managing Your Remote Team – How to Avoid this Common Pitfall

One of the biggest fears when managing a team of remote employees is that they won’t be working and getting the job done when you can’t see them. How do you know that they are spending their time wisely and doing things the correct way? Unfortunately, this fear can lead to micro-managing of employees, which can lead to the direct results you are trying to avoid.

When employees feel they are micro-managed, they feel overly controlled and become demotivated. This leads to a team that will not think outside of the box, or push themselves harder than they have to. They assume “why bother” – since everything is so tightly defined for them – there is little room for creativity and they will need to ask you for approval during each step, since they are not confident in proceeding without explicit direction.

Micro-ManagementSo how can you ensure that you have a motivated and productive team that is getting the job done correctly, without micro-managing them? The key is in giving them the responsibility to manage themselves and providing the vision and guidance when needed, rather than explicit instructions that are task focused.

Think of your team’s goals as a bowling alley. You want to clearly outline what the goal is – knock down all 10 pins in 2 or less shots, by rolling the ball. And you also want to define the boundaries for them to work within – like setting up the bumper guards in the lane. However, after that, you want to leave it to them to decide how to get the ball down the lane to accomplish the goal. Do they roll it fast or slow, do they use curve balls or straight shots, do they bank it off of the bumper guards several times – these decisions should be left in their hands.

By allowing your team to make all of these other decisions, they will learn what parameters they need to work within, and their goals to focus on. In turn, they will be able to make their own decisions within these limits and will only need to seek your advice when they have something that is outside of these parameters. This ensures that your team will not be paralyzed without your every authorization or decree, and will be motivated to seek new creative ways to enhance the team’s success.

The last step is to have them hold themselves accountable to their goals and have them report their success, or lack of, to you each week. By clearly setting goals and providing a weekly status report to you, they will hold themselves accountable for their goal attainment. No one wants to come to their manager and tell them they did a bad job. Everyone wants to be able to take pride in their achievements. By having them keep their goal attainment status on the top of every weekly conversation with you, they will be self-motivated to reach those goals.

Establishing Respect In Managing Remote Employees

Many remote managers make the mistake of trying to establish their credibility through demands and force.  Have you ever had a manager tell you a new policy or procedure is being implemented with the reason of “because that’s the way it is” or “that’s what I decided” or “it is what it is.”  How did this make you feel?  Did it bring back bad flashbacks of your parents telling you when you were a kid “because I said so?”

People need reasons and explanations behind actions; this conveys that you respect their thoughts and feelings enough to include them in the rational.  It doesn’t mean you need to evoke their consensus, but it will display your respect for them, which directly builds it in return.   One manager told their employee they were making their decision because their “ego just couldn’t currently let them accept the other person’s idea.”

As irrational a reason as this was, the fact that it was obviously truthful and that they were willing to share this reason behind their decision with the employee, earned their respect for the decision.

Respect is earned, not demanded.

Those that demand respect actually destroy it. Have you ever known a manager that others display respect to when they interact with them, but immediately behind their back do the opposite? They complain about the manager’s decisions, delivery, goals, etc. . . This leads to a team that does not embrace the manager’s and company’s goals and initiatives.

respectA successful team is one that is motivated by their manager and is behind their decisions (of their own free will – not by being forced).

This allows a company to make quick changes, capture and develop innovative ideas, and stay competitive. Granted, not every employee will like every idea that their manager communicates, but if they genuinely respect their manager, they are more likely to support those decisions in conversation with others, rather than spread dissent. Because remote employees can more easily feel separated from the company, inter-team communication can spread like a brush fire and generate emotions not conducive to the team’s success.

Own your decisions

Another common error made of managers is to do the opposite, when conveying a decision, by shirking ownership of it. Some managers convey reasons for directives to their employees as: “executive management made the rule” or “it’s a new company policy,” while at the same time communicating that they as a manager don’t necessarily agree but their “hands are tied.”

This type of communication is generally motivated by a need to be liked by their employees. Even though managers should strive to earn the respect of their employees, it does not mean they necessarily need to be liked. The goal is not to be their friend, but to be their manager.

When a manger uses this type of communication they discredit themselves by not owning their decisions.  Employees will read this as a sign of weakness.  The result can be employees going above or outside of their management structure to get answers, approval, assistance, etc. . . or to question their manager’s decisions.  Rather than saying “I personally wouldn’t mind if you took the day off, but I don’t think if would look good to executive management”, be the authority yourself.

You are the face of the company for your employees.  You do want to give them the “reasons why” behind the decision, when at all possible, but don’t defer to another power.  Instead try something like,” We have a critical project right now and I need you to be here today to make sure we meet the deadlines.”

Credibility through commitments

Another way to create respect and establish credibility is through commitments. This is especially critical in distributed workforce teams. A common compliant among these types of teams is that their manager does not get back to them when they try to contact them. Absent managers leave employees feeling isolated and will generate either unwanted maverick behavior (employees feeling that they can do whatever they want without following protocol), or employees that don’t reach set goals, based on excuses of “but you didn’t tell me to”, or “I didn’t know.”

To keep employees motivated and feeling like they are part of the company and team, a manager needs to keep promises and commitments. Even if it is a small promise; if you say you will get them something by Tuesday, then do so. Set consistent schedules with employees and don’t change them unless there is an emergency. If you have a time scheduled to talk with a remote employee each week, don’t reschedule it. Otherwise this will send the message that you don’t think they are a high priority. This sends the message that it is OK for them to reschedule or find excuses not to attend meetings and calls as well.

Keep in mind that your communication style sets the tone for how you want your team to communicate with you, the client and each other.   They will follow what you lead as far as your style.  If you take the ego out of your communication style and respect them, it will encourage them to do the same.

Communication techniques to build respect and trust with a remote workforce

cell phoneManaging a remote workforce can be challenging, especially when you can’t physically walk down the hall to see what they are doing.  How can you trust that they are getting the job done?  The starting point for any relationship is trust and respect.  Without daily face-to-face contact, these are more vulnerable to break-down in remote teams.  Field employees in particular need to know that their manager respects and trusts them to carry out everyday work functions, with little or no supervision.   This is also the catalyst to keep them self motivated when you are not around.  In the same token, managers need to know their employees are doing the job.  So how can you build a relationship of trust and respect with your employees to ensure that they are self-motivated and driven toward achieving goals, with a high level of integrity?

Creating an environment of accountability and motivation, for your remote team, starts with how you communicate with them.  Your communication style sets the tone for how you want your team to communicate with each other and you.  It will either encourage them to talk to each other, or shut them down and isolate them – which destroys team trust and motivation.  There are 7 key communication techniques you can use to help generate this respect, trust, and motivation.

  1. Keep all promises and respond to employees in timely manner – Don’t make a promise to an employee that you can’t keep, even if it is a small item.  If you say you will get them something by Tuesday, then do so.  If you e-mail an employee with a request for response, how soon do you expect them to get back to you?  If your expectations are 24 hours, then that is the same response time you should hold yourself to.  They will mirror your behavior in the pattern you set.
  2. Set consistent communication schedules with your employees – Schedule weekly meetings or one-on-one phone calls with your employees.  Setting consistent schedules helps give the employee a routine when they know they will be able to get in contact with you to discuss needed items.  This also helps ensure they feel connected to you and the team, and keeps them on track with the overall team goals.  Remote employees can easily lose sight of the company goals by focusing on what they think is important.  Having a weekly reinforcement with their manager, keeps them from veering off track.  Remote employees need more communication not less, than those in the same office.  Setting weekly communication schedules ensures they are each getting the contact they need.
  3. Stick to your employee appointments– Don’t change your scheduled employee calls and meetings unless it’s an emergency.  If you often change scheduled time with them, it will give the indication to employees that the meetings are not very important, which will encourage them to also find excuses to reschedule.  It sends the message that you don’t think they are a high priority or as important as other things you need to do.  Let them know you respect their time, and their contributions to the team, by keeping your scheduled appointments with them.
  4. Provide details and reasons “why” for any requests – If you say to one of your employees:  “Let’s have a call at 8AM tomorrow – there are some things I’d like to discuss with you.”  What types of things do you think are going through their mind?  It creates a stress level in your employee and sets false conceptions.  This type of request will also give the message to your employee that you don’t respect them enough to tell them the reasons you want to talk with them.  Instead, give them the reasons why or as many details as possible.  For example: “Let’s have a call at 8AM tomorrow to plan our strategy for the next client meeting we have coming up.”  Telling your employees the reasons why behind things also builds their buy in and support of ideas.  If someone were to ask to cut in front of you in a line, most of us would say “no.”  However, if they gave a good reason as to why they needed to, we would be more apt to let them in, and do so without resentment.  Giving your employees reasons behind decisions and directives will not only let them know you respect them, but will build their willing support.
  5. Ask rather than tell – Asking your employees to do something, rather than telling them, builds buy in and accountability.  Asking an employee to cover a client issue, doesn’t mean they won’t do it.  Because their manager is making the request, they will inherently say “yes.”  However, if you ask rather than tell them, then the employee has committed themselves by agreeing, and they are more likely to hold themselves accountable, rather than you having to doing so.   Individuals are more motivated to accomplish tasks they have been asked to do rather than been told to do.
  6. Write positive e-mails – E-mails will always come across 10 times more negative than intended, which can be an issue in a virtual environment where e-mail becomes a heavily depended on communication tool.  To avoid a negative miscommunication, try to be overly positive when you write e-mails.  Use exclamation points, use “hi” or “good morning”, say “thanks!”, use humor or positive feedback.  Make it a pleasure to do business with you.  You want your employees to look forward to your e-mails rather than dread them.  Consider re-reading specifically sensitive e-mails or have someone else give you their perception before sending.
  7. Ask them for their advice, opinion, and feedback – It can be especially hard to transition from a role as a peer to a role as a manger of those peers.  How do you build respect from them in your new role?  This item is one of the best ways to help you do that, as well as build ongoing respect.  We value people who value us.  If you ask them questions and solicit their feedback, they will be more receptive to listening to yours when you give it.  It is like putting credit in your respect bank account.  People will ultimately listen to you, if you listen to them.  But if you haven’t built up that respect bank account, they will only partially tune into you.   People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Ultimately you cannot demand respect and trust from your employees, it must be earned.  By showing them that you trust and respect them, through your communication practices, you will generate the same in return, as well as their dedication and motivation.

The Importance of Word Choices in Communication

Words mean different things to different people.  Choosing your words carefully is a critical component of effective communication.  It can be especially critical when you are dealing with remote teams and communicating mostly via email.  Try to think of positive ways to word your communication with your team.  Here are some examples.  Think of your own positive questions or responses to each of these scenarios.

Negative Positive
Our current system is terrible; it will never   work unless come changes are made.  How can we improve our system to work more   efficently?  What can we do to make it   better?
No, that is against our company policy, or we   don’t do things that way.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Let’s see how we can make that work.
  But your idea won’t solve the problem. Thanks for the input, that’s a great   start.  What else can we do to address   this challenge?

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