Working remote has become a highly sought-after job perk.
Having the flexibility to live and work where you please, regardless of corporate headquarters, often draws people to take one job over another.
But while popular and convenient, a new study by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, authors of the bestsellers Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability, shows that not everything comes up roses when working remote.
According to the study of 1,153 employees, communicating and working from different locations via technology is especially challenging for remote workers. The 52 percent of respondents in the study who work remotely feel their colleagues don't treat them equally. Specifically, remote employees have a significantly harder time with the following workplace challenges than their onsite colleagues:
- Colleagues don't fight for my priorities: 67% of remote employees felt this way vs. 59% of onsite employees.
- Colleagues say bad things about me behind my back: 41% of remote employees felt this way vs. 31% of onsite employees.
- Colleagues make changes to the project without warning me: 64% of remote employees felt this way vs. 58% of onsite employees.
- Colleagues lobby against me with others: 35% of remote employees felt this way vs. 26% of onsite employees.
And when they experience these challenges, remote employees have a hard time resolving them. In fact, when encountering one of these issues, 84 percent of these remote employees said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, and 47 percent admitted to letting it drag on for a few weeks or more.
And these problems don't just affect relationships. Remote employees see larger, negative impacts of these challenges than their onsite colleagues on results like productivity, costs, deadlines, morale, stress and retention.
But since the trends prove working remote is here to stay, Maxfield and Grenny say the solution is not to call in the troops, but to lead out with stellar communication.
"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."
Grenny adds that managers play a particularly important role when it comes to communication.
"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."
To identify the specific communication skills integral to co-located teams, Grenny and Maxfield asked survey respondents to describe a manager who is especially good at managing remote employees. They received 853 accounts of skilled managers. The stories shared specific management skills characteristic of the most successful co-located teams.
Top 7 Skills for Managing Remote Employees
1) Frequent and Consistent Check-ins. Nearly half of respondents (46%) said the most successful managers checked in frequently and regularly with remote employees. The cadence of the check-ins varied from daily to bi-weekly to weekly but were always consistent and usually entailed a standing meeting or scheduled one-on-one.
2) Face-to-Face or Voice-to-Voice. One in four respondents said managers who insisted on some face time with remote employees were more successful. Make a visit to remote employees or schedule a mandatory in-office day once a week, month, quarter, or year. Use this time for team building. 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.
3) Exemplify Stellar Communication Skills. Respondents emphasized the importance of general, stellar communication with co-located teams. 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.
4) Explicit Expectations. When it comes to managing remote teams, being clear about expectations was mandatory. Managers who are direct with their expectations of both remote and onsite employees have happier teams that can deliver to those expectations. People are never left in the dark about projects, roles, deadlines, etc.
5) Always Available. Successful managers are available quickly and at all times of the day. They go above and beyond to maintain an open door policy for both remote and onsite employees—making themselves available across multiple time zones and through multiple means of technology (IM, Slack, Skype, Email, Phone, Text, etc.). Remote employees can always count on their manager to respond to pressing concerns.
6) Technology Maven. Successful managers use multiple means of communication to connect with their remote workers. They don't just resort to phone or email, but are familiar with video conferencing technologies and a variety of services like Skype, Slack, Instant Message, Adobe Connect and more. They often tailor their communication style and medium to each employee.
7) Prioritize Relationships. Team building and comradery are important for any team and co-located teams are no exception. Good managers go out of their way to form personal bonds with remote employees. They use check-in time to ask about their personal life, families and hobbies. They allow team meeting time for "Water cooler" conversation so the whole team can create personal connections and strengthen relationships.
Grenny and Maxfield say managers who use these skills to communicate with remote employees will find that not only are their teams happier and healthier, they are also more successful.