Countless managers have long-been comforted by the sight of a room of staffers stiff-backed at their desks. These same managers now wonder what their remote workers might be getting up to. But leadership styles need to evolve along with the contemporary business world — a world in which virtual teams now occupy a central role.
Although several global firms have reversed earlier policies on flexible remote work made late 2021, a slew of top tech firms — have decided to allow staff to work remotely for as long as they’d like. With office vacancy in the US hovering around 50%, even with recent news of flexible work policy reversals and ensuing employee revolts, it is clear that the office exit door has been kicked open and looks set to stay that way. Maybe just not as wide as before.
For those businesses that do want to pursue remote setups, communication training and strategies need to be implemented so that workers are fully aligned with established practices and protocols, and with the company culture and vision.
Think about it, when everyone’s working in the office, it’s easy to call a quick meeting, paste mission-linked sticky notes everywhere, or drop by a staffer’s desk to check in face-to-face.
With workers scattered around the globe, it could take days or even a week to get everybody on a call — by which time the landscape may have shifted yet again.
So how can a manager maintain momentum as remote takes root? It all starts with good communication, and the education should start from Day One. To produce remotely, employees need to know what you expect, how you work, and how you deliver messages on the firm’s main tech tools and platforms. At Virtira, we maintain a tech bible that lays out when and how certain tools are used and precisely where to find our various dashboards, databases, and research.
This is a crucial element of onboarding. Every new hire goes through a 100-item checklist in their first few days on the job, to ensure full access to the relevant tools and compliance with our protocols. Within a few days of being hired, workers will know to use collaboration tools rather than email, for instance, to discuss quality assurance.
Understanding company culture is a core element of good communication, so new hires must also gain a thorough understanding of their role and how it supports broader corporate goals. Remote workers should never have to guess which task to tackle next. They should instead be eminently familiar with their deadlines and deliverables, their duties, and the broader direction of the firm. Employees should also be given the autonomy they need to produce. All of this certainty and knowledge instills confidence, which in turn breeds less stress, more focus, and greater productivity.
The effectiveness of remote collaboration is inextricably linked to your team’s ability to communicate. Being an expert in the most potent online tools is useless if you’re unable to understand your colleagues’ input or share your views with others. Better understanding also means stronger social ties within virtual teams.
Yet a recent Salesforce survey found that 86 percent of employees and executives cite ineffective communication as the primary cause of workplace failures. Of course, this is an even greater concern when it comes to remote, which removes the non-verbal cues and random interactions in the hall while adding a slew of potential distractions.
Remote communications can be exceedingly easy to ignore, which explains one of our most common refrains: don’t assume anyone is paying attention to anything you write or say. This realization, that there’s a decent chance that messages will be ignored, is why we train our staff how to craft succinct and easily consumable communications geared to creating engagement with the recipient, rather than something easy to click past.
This means they need to learn to avoid wasting others’ time, embrace brevity, and write less to communicate more. To speed up their learning curve, you might want to give your staff The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr, and E.B. White. It’s barely 100 pages, but few books hold more insight. At a minimum, it’ll help them structure their requests on Chat GPT and understand how to edit those missives.
Remote communications need to be simple and clear and leverage empathy, or as we train our employees “WIIFM”. This means putting themselves in the mind of the recipient and translating their message into words that person will resonate with. Keep in mind, with today’s endless digital distractions it can be harder than ever to grab and hold people’s attention. That means messages need to be stronger and have a clear purpose. Of course, they also need to be brief, because nobody has time to dig for the punch line.
Traditionalists might be sad to learn that you really don’t need those corporate posters and catchphrases posted all around the office and on internal dashboards. When everybody can communicate, remote productivity is a snap — perhaps even easier than in the office.
This article was first published as an Author Post on Forbes.com
With increased demand for hybrid and fully remote work styles, most firms understand that some form of distance work is here to stay – and have put some remote protocols in place. But are they the right ones?
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