Effective communication, motivating exceptional performance, resolving conflicts in a positive and productive way – these are all important parts of leadership, and if you’re a manager or supervisor, you know that each comes with its own set of challenges. But what if you also have the added complexity called “remote employees”? Does anything change if your staff are in a different office building across town? What if your people work from home offices or out of their vehicles while on the road? What about if they operate in a different time zone? Suddenly, the challenges multiply and compound. Because of the physical distance between you and your people, they will feel increasingly isolated UNLESS you take steps to provide a greater degree of support and feedback to them.
There are several things you can do to overcome this physical distance problem, but here’s an easy one. Set office hours. Remember when you went to university or college and your professors would set office hours – specific times during the week when you would be guaranteed to find the professor in his/her office and available to talk to you. Same idea. Set office hours – specific times during the week when your employees know they can call and that they will get you “live” in your office. Even if the phone switches over to voice mail, they’ll know it’s because you’re talking to another employee, and so they can count on you calling them back fairly soon. Block this off on your schedule so that no one else schedules meetings during this time, and treat this blocked time like gold. This simple step of setting office hours can make you significantly more accessible to your off-site employees and make huge inroads toward decreasing their feelings of isolation. Heck, this is a good leadership practice even if you don’t have off-site employees; it works just as well with on-site employees!
For those of you who have long-distance employee relationships (or if you ARE the “remote employee”), what else works to provide enhanced support and feedback?
Great tip Merge! Often managers do set office hours…for the employee! Reversing that process would do wonders (and reduce what I call the GarbageFactor). Remote employee’s are often frustrated when trying to get support. When they get someone’s voice mail, it doesn’t answer their secondary question of “when will I be able to get in touch.” Office hours for management eliminates that unknown.
There will always be times that are inconvenient, but having set office hours has the potential to eliminate a lot of frustration.