Updated: May 14, 2020
Remote work has benefits and also downsize risks. Some say it’s not for everyone and some also point out that some of the early adopters of remote teams have subsequently decided to call their employees in office. I believe that, like any other risk, the optimal solution might be to manage it rather than avoiding it altogether.
In reality, most of the so-called limitations of remote work are rooted in miscommunication or in failing to recognize that employees have different personality traits. I’ll build on the Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) body of knowledge to point out some measures to manage execution risk when your team works from home.
1. Work from home can be a bliss for those who are more introverts and a burden for the extroverts. The more introvert a person is the more natural it will be for him/her to adjust to a work from home setup as they strive when having their comfort of their own minds; extroverts on the other hand recharge their batteries by socializing. For this reason, is important to create enough opportunities for the latter to interact with the rest of the team (or clients, depending on the job); some companies for instance have adopted virtual coffees or permanent open chats to replicate the hangouts or the watercooler chats that happen in an office setup.
Keep in mind throughout this article however that personalities are different and although there are ways of differentiating them, this happens across a continuum rather than by using a fixed number of options. That is, the workplace is likely to include persons who are evidently introverts or extroverts as well as many others who are somewhere in between.
There are specific questions that can be used to identify the predominant patterns. NB: for many of the patterns, how the interviewee answers (ie. the words used) matter more than what (s)he says.
2. Setting out clear objectives and expectations. How often have you heard yourself or your manager saying “that’s not what I wanted” or “that’s not what I meant”.
Learn to be just as specific as you have to in your communication without micromanaging your team. Profile your team to understand the level of detail required by your team members as some tend to be overwhelmed when faced with details whilst others are overwhelmed when having just the big picture. Furthermore, find out who likes to keep options open and who needs a more procedural way of working. Again, you will find out that some feel stressed when having too much flexibility whilst others would be stressed if they are faced with a lack of options.
Don’ t fall in the trap of setting out a step by step action plan just because you want to avoid miscommunication; to keep the team motivated, avoid frustration and build on their skills it pays better to understand the differences between them and calibrate your communication accordingly
3. Engaging the team. The team has to understand WHY they are required to do so something. Keep the team aligned and strive to adopt a north start or other ways of monitoring objectives whilst keeping in mind the vision of the company and its value proposition. More about objective setting here.
It is also important to avoid silos by sharing objectives and goals in a transparent and easy to follow way.
4. Keep meetings relevant. Whilst its good to open meetings with some personal chitchatting to keep the “chemistry” alive the remaining of the meeting needs to avoid too many deviations. Team members will start daydreaming when they are in face to face meetings let alone when they are on a teleconference.
Keep the meetings outcome-focused, empower teams to navigate as needed between the problem space and solutions pace. Practice using words that shift the focus on what is desired (ie. reframe the problem). Useful tips here.
Manage the “mismatchers”.Learn how to identify the latter and avoid steering the discussion in an endless debate about possible issues, by motivating them to keep the goal in mind as this “will prevent the group from losing focus”. You can also acknowledge that their skills are valuable “in finding out the little things that can prevent this from working” and invite them to write them down as they come to mind and then bring them up for discussion later in the meeting.
Choice of words makes a difference so you can also see results by mismatching the mismatcher 😊: “I don’t know if you want to consider this but ….” Or “I don’t know whether you agree but…”
5. Keep the personal feel in your communication. Maintain the bond of the team by encouraging video calls often enough. The non-verbal communication is important in building relationships and video makes it easier to observe it. In the same vein, keep the video frame large enough to allow the team members to observe the body language, position, posture (i.e don’t limit it to face only). To make the best out of it, learn about building rapport.
When it comes to chitchatting the managers can lead by example by sharing personal experiences.
6. Flexibility in providing feedback. You will notice that some are comfortable without infrequent feedback (eg half-yearly or annual) as they have their own barometer to judge how well they are doing. However, some need constant feedback and will stress out and start building scenarios in their heads if they are left waiting for a formal feedback. For the latter communicate from time to time what is being appreciated about their work whilst for the former create the conditions for independent decision making.
7. Manage accountability risks wisely. I strongly believe that when team members feel empowered and they know their objectives everything falls into place and this applies both to remote and office workers. The number of hours worked is not necessarily relevant so is better to use objectives achievement rate or KPIs to measure the effort put by your team.
Key to empowering teams is recognizing their personality traits and adapting your communication accordingly. The motivational language has to be adapted to reflect the collection of personal traits, including direction filter (in NLP language). The latter reflects to the fact that some are predominantly motivated by gains whilst others work best when they have something big and negative to move away from. To put it simple, for some it works best to give them a carrot (highlight the benefits) whilst others are energized by avoiding failure (highlight what is being avoided).
To combine this filter with other personal traits, choose your motivational words accordingly. For example:
- for an independent, options-oriented, “towards” team member one could use: “you might want to consider this option which will enable you to…”;
- for a person with an external feedback reference, reactive, procedures-oriented and moving away one can adapt the language as follows: “now that you have taken all the time to analyse this, you can use the common methodology as it will be greatly appreciated by the management and it will help avoid ….”.
The possible combinations are multiple and yet it is easy to learn to choose your words purposefully so as to really motivate your team.
8. Somehow related to the above, manage deviations from the agreed timelines by recognizing possible personal traits that can work against the individual at times.
Have you ever had the experience of working with someone who “jumps” in handling emerging problems? This firefighting is specific to some roles whilst in others it leads to sudden and frequent change of priorities which might not be what the management had expected. This happens most often to the team members with an avoidance direction filter (mentioned above) and they need to be empowered to keep the main priorities insight.
You are also likely to have people on your team who have difficulties planning ahead and are easily caught “in the now”. At extreme they can seem undependable. To manage them stress what is needed “now” and what they need to be “aware of”.
9. Pre-empt conflicts
In any team, the sum is greater than the sum of parts and this becomes more relevant when team members are different. However, this can also lead to people stepping on each other’s nerves if they do not know how to overcome differences.
When your team has a number of independent decision makers you run the risk of conflicts as they can act without consulting others even when they are expected to. To manage the risk, separate responsibilities and instil the discipline of negotiating when needed.
Another thing that can happen is proactive members “over-doing” it (particularly if they also have a Towards motivation pattern). Such individuals are certainly valuable in any company and yet they can spark conflict as they will impatient with bureaucracy or long procedures. Find how they get motivated and use language to explain how those procedures help. Eg you want to get this make this happen (active language) and this procedure will help as avoid unnecessary delays (move away language).
NLP empowers people to understand the value of these differences and adapt their language to make themselves heard.
10. Communication means that make sense. Avoid communication errors as well as time wasting by choosing the communication means that work for a given situation. Too many emails are time wasting and calling can be more efficient. Emails can also lead to misunderstandings and a discussion is likely to yield better results in some cases.
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