Communicating with staff is an essential skill! When you are not in the office and visible to your staff during work hours it is important to maintain a regular communication schedule so they feel that you are part of their work life and managing their work load and issues.
Remember that the success of YOUR telecommute will rely heavily on the success of your staff and communication is always the key to getting the best out of them.
Communicating with staff
Communication to your staff will probably fall into two types – formal and informal.
You will need to establish a formal communication schedule on a very regular basis – a time each week that you will meet with either an individual or the entire team. For my team we do this two times a week – a major meeting on Tuesday and a follow up on Thursday. The meeting last an hour and we use Skype very successfully (currently the free version of Skype allows multiple people to be on a call, but not using video).
During this formal meeting we have a standing agenda in which each team member has time to provide an update of what is happening in their work areas as well as a report back about any other meeting/decision outcomes that will affect our work loads.
You will need to maintain regular informal communication with staff as well. This may be using an instant messenger (IM), like Yahoo or MSN, that shows each person on the teams work status (available to talk, in a meeting, at lunch etc). It is good practice to use this IM to greet the team members each day when you log on and to say goodbye when you log off – just as you would if you were all in the same office building. You can also use IM to touch bases with staff members during the day to ask questions or provide news on projects. Be careful that IM does not become a distraction between you and your team…or between team members. It’s all about balance.
Nothing beats it – but its not always a possibility. We plan to have some face-to-face as often as we can by arranging to meet at conferences and other functions. We try and stay an extra day at least once a year so we can touch bases and plan future directions. It is well worth the time and can be a real rebirth of the team to have that positive time together.
Face-to-face becomes essential when you are dealing with a staffing issue as some things can not be solved over the phone or using IM or Skype. No matter how we try, emails and IM’s can be ‘misread’ as the emotion in which they are written can be hidden. So during a major dispute or issue, face-to-face is the only option. Likewise, when appointing new staff, you will need to spend face-to-face time getting them settled into their role and to create a bond that will be needed to work as a team when you are remote from them.