Good communication between the manager and those being managed is key to the success of any business. Without good communication individual effort is just that: the multiplying effect of the whole team working as one is lost. Communicating at a distance brings many complications; broadly if you are not physically in the same work space then side-conversations and office chat is lost. Often these communications are important and should be facilitated somehow. An unevenly split team may isolate one or more other members of a team where ‘asides’ are happening and not captured unless discipline is applied. It is worth highlighting three interrelated problems that can occur in this situation: lack of the human interface i.e. the loss of facial nuance; the possibility of misinterpretation particularly when using email; a danger of duplication of effort unless clear direction is communicated.
Regular ‘meetings’ need to be scheduled. At least one formal team meeting a week where a well understood and repeat agenda is used to lead the discussion must be in place. This ensures everyone present knows what will be covered and by whom. Speakers are ready to contribute the key information they hold, no time is wasted and the maximum amount of information transfer is achieved. This in turn will elicit from the manager the direction and clarification the team needs. For example, the HM editorial team meeting is held on Monday at 0800 hrs GMT and 1600 HK, there is a set agenda and rhythm. This works very well as the Hong Kong have the morning to clear immediate ‘first day of the week issues’ and then are well placed and prepared to inform the weekly meeting at 1600 hrs. The meeting is prompt and succinct. It is also at this meeting where focused work for the week is confirmed and leads are designated.
Beyond the formal weekly meetings it is important to schedule specific discussion group for the whole team or parts of the team to deal with particular detail on an ad hoc basis. These can be called when required, but importantly they must be an open forum to those that have a stake in the particular issue. If everyone concerned is not present at such a discussion group then information to that person must be communicated and any feed back captured. This in turn needs sharing with the group and can be usefully circulated in a short ROD email to all. Informal dialogue / banter is equally important to raising HR issues and staffing concerns; this interaction helps maintain a good working environment.
Communication using management tools (such as Smartsheet and Basecamp) such as tasking matrices, timelines and milestones, activity monitoring systems and an intuitive filing system which is reflected in emails and messaging all assist with the clarity of communications and adds a point of reference for all team members.
Face to face meetings. It is important to have regular face to face meetings. Clearly not easy when the team is geographically spread. Primarily this is good for passing information but more importantly it is a key moment when relationships are cemented. It is also an opportune moment when difficult issues can be tackled, for example: where the manager needs to deal with specific HR issues.
Communication whether it be spoken or written must be delivered in plain English; when using jargon do consider whether others will understand it. This will keep the business of communication short and clear. We can all get bogged down in the language of our chosen sector and with this there is a possible danger of information becoming unclear.
In essence, none of this is complicated but it is certainly more difficult than it might seem. Concerted effort is required in order to maintain regular, clear and meaningful communications particularity when working across time zones and continents.
The next post will look at the technology available that has facilitated our ability to improve Remote Management for the HM Editorial Team.