Managing 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.