Staying Virtually Connected
Building relationships and staying virtually connected with employees is not something that happens overnight. It requires hard work, commitment, creativity, and a willingness to adjust your leadership approach.
The key elements to creating an ongoing and positive (virtual or in-person) relationship with your employees include:
√ STAY ENGAGED by listening to and coaching your employees.
√ BUILD TRUST by setting the example and creating an honest environment that welcomes open communication.
√ BUILD ACCOUNTABILITY by creating an environment of ownership and learning from experiences, whether positive or negative, instead of blaming others.
√ RECOGNIZE and CELEBRATE PROGRESS to keep your employees engaged and motivated.
One effective method to stay virtually connected to your employees is to establish a Virtual Communication Methods policy, which is an Open-Door policy but for your remote workforce. It is a great way to encourage and maintain successful working relationships with employees you do not regularly see in person. Virtual communication methods provide open communication about matters of importance to an employee: questions, concerns, suggestions and needs.
To implement an effective policy, make sure to address specific parameters around the policy (to avoid “chronic complainers”). For instance, establish boundaries, be detailed so that employees understand how to use the policy and the purpose behind it (e.g., no gossip). If well built, a Virtual Communication Methods policy can settle concerns quickly and respectfully, help protect both employer and employees from troublesome lawsuits while promoting transparency, and will create a loyal worker base and increase productivity.
Building and cultivating trust in remote teams takes hard work. Without it, morale and productivity suffer, and good employees leave.
Create a culture of transparency: Be open and honest about changes that will impact them. Remote organizations value transparency because it improves credibility and lowers the chance of cultural misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Listen Effectively: Do not forget that some of your front-line employees have the clearest insight about issues and potential improvements within the organization. Not being able to see each other face to face should prompt more specific questions such as “how do they feel?” or “what are they thinking?”. Ask for their input, what matters to them, how they like to receive feedback, and how they prefer to communicate or to be recognized. Follow through with your commitments and promises: Just as you expect your employees to deliver on their promises, they expect the same from you.
Celebrate: Hold a virtual group event, holiday party, or team building event, it helps to prevent remote working from feeling unimportant, not seen, and helps build a sense of team cohesiveness. Seek ideas from business partners, friends, employees or simply search the internet, there are many options from high-energy online games for remote teams to activities focused on health and wellness.
Building accountability helps to create a strong relationship with your employees and better lead them. It must start from the top so that leaders can encourage this behavior among their teams. Employees who take ownership, quickly acknowledge their mistakes and focus on correcting the situation learn from the experience. To cultivate accountability, start by:
• Leading by example: For instance, if you keep pushing back meetings or deadlines or are not owning up to your mistakes, your employees will do the same.
• Set measurable goals and define expectations: Apply the S-M-A-R-T approach (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound). Allow for feedback, solicit, and provide weekly ongoing project updates, and address next steps in each meeting agenda (tracking deadlines, changes, and milestones along the way). Employees need clearly defined expectations to achieve goals and understand what results in the organization/department is trying to achieve.
• Have the difficult conversations: The “difficult conversations” are especially crucial for remote employees to help them succeed by holding them accountable. As the leader, if you did your due diligence in staying engaged, building trust, and setting clear goals, your employees should be able to honestly say what they thought, and did or did not accomplish. Keep a positive tone, make your conversation an open dialogue with proven facts and data to support your case, and always end the meeting on a positive note. Never walk away from an accountability conversation without a clear plan of action about what to do next, which will give you an opportunity to follow up with them in coming weeks to check on how things are progressing. Lastly, there needs to be consequences for consistently poor performance and reinforcement for positive results and behaviors.
RECOGNIZE AND CELEBRATE PROGRESS
The final important piece to creating a long-lasting relationship with your remote workforce is to recognize them and celebrate all victories, big and small. The small milestones are the most often forgotten, but it is thanks to those small achievements that we reach the final most pursued goal.
Of course, there are always welcome monetary appreciations or promotions to recognize your employees, but there are also plenty of other inexpensive, non-monetary, and meaningful ways. Create a means for employees and managers to recognize another employee. This may be as simple as a recognition box or as fancy as something from a third-party vendor with all the bells and whistles.
Sometimes just saying “thank you” and “you did a great job” on a team or company virtual meeting enhances the employee’s feeling of recognition. Also, a nice email to the team praising the individual’s success goes a long way. Some prefer private recognition instead of public acknowledgment; be mindful of the different personalities.
Staying virtually connected has a profound impact on your remote workforce, not only from a business perspective but also at a personal level. Maintaining social bonds with your remote workforce prevents them from feeling isolated, alone or stressed. Encourage the connection and be part of the solution.
Prepared by Sara Jacobs
HR Business Partner, HR Service.