4 Communication Tips for Remote Managers

Knowing how to communicate in a remote role is especially important in light of new virtual workplace survey findings from Interact, which reveal that management needs to improve their communication in order to keep virtual workers engaged, happy, and productive. In fact, over two-thirds (69 percent) of America’s virtual employees said that management needs to communicate better in order to keep them engaged. Even more alarmingly, 55 percent of virtual workers reported that their boss communicates with them almost exclusively by email.

Ms. Lou Solomon, Interact’s CEO and founder, says that executives must be intentional and strategic about building a sense of connectedness with virtual workers to keep them engaged and ensure productivity and growth. “Unhappy employees who are disconnected from their managers and the company cannot take ownership of the mission, goals, or big picture, which is the minimum requirement for the kind of engagement that impacts a company’s bottom line,” explains Solomon.

To overcome this challenge, she offers the four tips below to help corporate leaders develop “The Influence Factor™” and find ways to stay close to their virtual employees:

  • Get personal and hit the road. Solomon believes it’s important for managers to avoid getting land-locked at headquarters. “If the entire team can’t be brought to headquarters, corporate executives must go to them,” she says. “Hold in-person town hall meetings, allow people to ask questions, and telecast them to the entire organization.” Solomon additionally recommends finding ways to create a culture of conversation and connection—for example, by sending a Daily Thought to employees like Wells Fargo Capital Finance CEO Henry Jordan has done for decades, or posting regular video messages to employees on the intranet. “Speak with clarity and simplicity and tell personal stories,” she says.
  • Think small and get together. Another strategy to improve connection with your virtual workforce is to pare down the number of people on project teams to allow for more intimacy and trust to develop. “What virtual workers often lack is the satisfaction of what it means to be a part of a trusting team of people connected by purpose,” says Solomon. To create this type of culture, she recommends bringing virtual teams together twice a year to reconnect face-to-face. The group can use this time to decide how they want to work, and identify improvements to make in how they communicate with each other.
  • Discourage an email-only culture. Email ups the probability that people will miscommunicate inadvertently, according to Solomon. To avoid this, she advises that leaders use Skype with members of their virtual team, and encourages people to pick up the phone for real conversations. “People are wasting hours managing email that does nothing to build connections, much less trust,” says Solomon. “Consider ‘No Email Fridays’ and ‘No Email Weekends’ for virtual teams.”
  • Invest in state-of-the-art equipment. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the benefits of seeing those you work with on a consistent basis, even if it’s only via video cam. “Invest in great equipment, particularly for companies with a large virtual workforce,” suggests Solomon. “It’s important for teams to see each other on video conference regularly.” When scheduling such meetings, Solomon says to be sure to understand the various time zones of all participants, and vary the meeting times accordingly: “Don’t make all meetings convenient to those at ‘headquarters’ and inconvenient for everyone else.”

With effort and intention, it’s realistic to expect that managers can improve their communication effectiveness with their virtual employees, resulting in better outcomes for all.