Remote is Not as Far as You Think!

by Himanshu Jhamb on September 18, 2009

working remotelyOne of my friends who’s usually a ‘half-glass-full’ kind of person recently came to me in a seemingly ‘full-glass-empty’ kind of mood.  I was obviously concerned. After a couple of rounds of therapeutic beers (where I actually showed him what a ‘full-glass-empty’ really looks like) he opened up to the cause of his rare mood. He had just started a job where he was required to manage a project team … remotely! Not having worked in that configuration before, he was, obviously, feeling the teething problems of his new configuration. What made it even more challenging for him was that even his higher-ups were remote so not only he had to manage his team remotely but also he had to manage-up remotely.

Working remotely has its share of challenges. There is no doubt about it. Having managed remote teams for over 4 years now with varying team sizes, I can surely say that apart from the obvious challenge that you remain deprived of the tantalizing water cooler conversations; there are some unobvious ones that you need to be careful about lest they have the power of biting you where it hurts the most. However, with appropriate care, one can manage these challenges quite well. Here is the ABCD… of it:

(A)ctively Communicate: Take matters into your hands when no one does. Take initiative. A rule of thumb that I follow is: If it’s important and has taken more than 3 emails back and forth and is still not complete -its time to pick up the phone and call.

(B)e Reachable… always: Let your co-workers have your latest (and accurate) contact information so that they can reach you… it should be as convenient as walking to your desk, if you were not remote.

(C)ommunicate… and if needed, over-communicate: Yes, you will have people tell you (or maybe they’ll tell others) that you repeat yourself. Get comfortable with that complaint. Its usually a good sign when people tell you that – because it usually means you don’t have to worry about if you might not have communicated at all, which is a bigger problem.

(D)eliver on your commitments: This one obviously applies regardless of if you’re remote or not. However, this becomes even more critical if you’re remote because the level of trust you need to accumulate from your remote colleagues is more. Once you deliver on your commitments consistently and repeatedly, people will stop caring too much if you’re present in flesh and blood.

(E)ffective & Efficient Action: Since you will have little face to face time in your ‘remoteness’ make sure every action you take counts. In that, it needs to be effective and efficient. Hone your emailing and speaking skills. That’ll help you become more efficient (and effective).

(F)requent Communication: Here’s a powerful practice: Regardless of whether your boss asks or not, checks on you or not, takes status or not – Communicate frequently with him. Volunteer status updates. Ask questions that are relevant to business. Listen to him and help him do what he does, better. If you do this just frequently enough, it will be one less thing he would have to worry about… and that’s a good thing for you!

Yes… whoever said “Distance makes the heart grow fonder” did mean it in the business sense also! You just need to make sure you embody the practices to do so!

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