Can your teammates count on you? Even remote workers need to virtually show up when needed. Today we will talk about how.
Remote teams need a different type of reliability
Reliability used to be easy to measure. Do you show up to work on time? Do you work late when the situation calls for it? Do you make yourself available to provide assistance to your team when needed? If so, then you were reliable.
For remote teams, though, this can be a little trickier to define. Showing up early to the office is no longer an option because there is no office. We all need to adjust our expectations, both managers and workers alike, and in our estimation this is good news. A lot of the sentiment around reliability is out-dated and it is time for a refresh.
TIP #1 – providing proactive updates will prevent people from freaking out
Clients, managers, and other stakeholders want to know what is going on with their projects, but they don’t have time to follow every detail. This is where you come in.
If you are getting paid to do a job, then it is your responsibility to not only make sure that you perform the task, but that all project stakeholders are informed and satisfied with the progress of the task. By stakeholders here, I mean anybody that has a vested interest in the success of whatever project you may be working on. This could be your clients, your managers, your team members, or anybody else who will be impacted by your success (or failure).
Each stakeholder, especially client-stakeholders who are paying for the work, are busy people. They have many things to worry about and don’t have time to follow the details on every single project. It is YOUR responsibility to make sure that all of your stakeholders are well informed at each stage of your project… with one very important detail – it is your job to provide them updates BEFORE they ask for it!
A quick note before we move on: you don’t need to overcomplicate this. While it is certainly possible (and sometimes preferable) to define a complex and impressive real-time project status dashboard, sometimes it is easier to send an email or update a tracking sheet.
Providing regular proactive updates to your stakeholders is not just for their benefit, but for yours as well. If you don’t communicate effectively with your clients and your team, then eventually they are going to start losing confidence in you. Why has nobody heard from you for a while? Is the reason that you haven’t provided updates because you haven’t been making progress? What is it that they are paying you for, anyways?
This is a bad situation – you never want your managers or your clients wondering what you are doing. If this happens, their imagination is going to fill in the blank spots, and it won’t be charitable towards you. Typically, they will assume that you are not working as hard as you should be working, which will certainly damage your future career ambitions.
TIP #2 – Respond quickly to requests
This tip may seem counterintuitive. There are countless blogs, videos, and books out there that advise managers to be more patient and understanding while people are working from home. Managers shouldn’t expect immediate responses, right? Wrong.
Just because you are working remotely does not mean that you should not be available. When somebody reaches out to you with a request or a question, you still need to respond to them in a timely manner. In fact, working remotely it is in your best interest to respond even quicker than when you are at the office.
In the office, people have the luxury of being able to find you. If they need something, they can hunt you down. If somebody walks over to your desk or into your office, it is impossible to ignore them. In an office or in-person setting, if you needs something, they WILL get a response from you, even if that response is simply “I’m sorry but I can’t help you right now”. Even though they may not get what they want, they will at least get a response.
When working remotely, you are harder for your stakeholders to hunt you down. People can send you an email. They can send you multiple emails. They can ping you on chat or even call you on the phone. But all of these channels are largely one-sided. Sure, they can send you an email or a chat message, but those are much easier for you to ignore (at least for a little while) than somebody standing over your desk.
Being remote largely takes power away from your manager and puts it into your hands. No longer are you a caged animal in a cubicle that can easily be found and bossed around. However… to use an over-quoted Spider Man quote… with great power comes great responsibility. This means that it is now YOUR responsibility to make sure your boss, your customers, and your team members have all the information they need to feel comfortable.
This isn’t to say, though, that you need to be available for immediate responses 24/7. There of course needs to be a balance, which brings us to our next tip.
TIP #3 – Set office hours for remote meetings
The nine-to-five work schedule has been decreasing in relevance for some time now. For those of use working remotely, the lines between work hours and everything else can certainly start to blur. It is important to set clear boundaries around when you are and when you are not available for your stakeholders by clearly defining “office hours” during which you are available for meetings.
When you work in an office, people can always tell if you are available. They just drop by the office. If you are gone, then you are not available. If you are talking on the phone you are not available….. It was very clear. When working remotely, we need a similar way to signal to our colleagues and our clients whether we are available.
You can do this by blocking out portions of your workday to focus on your various tasks uninterrupted. Likewise, define your work hours in your calendar so that others cannot schedule meetings with you outside of your regular working hours. This isn’t to say that you should never accept an important meeting invite after quitting time. There is always a need to be flexible and there will always be exceptions to the rule.
As a quick tech tip, I use a web application called Calendly that syncs directly to my calendar and allows people to schedule meetings with me during free time slots only. This is a great tool that save me a ton of time when I need to schedule a meeting with somebody. There’s a free version for people to use, though I have rolled it out to my entire team and we use it to schedule consultancy hours with our clients, creating a self-service page for clients to book appointments with a click of button.
You can even control how long these meetings are. This is. Why my Calendly only allows people to schedule 30 minutes which is more than enough time for most matters.
It may seem like I am not being flexible by limiting my availability, but in reality, this practice saves everybody a lot of time by setting clear expectations up front. No longer does it take 3 emails back and forth to decide upon a time to meet. They can simply access my calendar and with a few clicks put time on it directly during periods that I have defined as office hours.
The meaning of reliability has changed as more teams go remote. What works for in-person office environments may not suffice for remote teams, so we need to be very mindful about making sure we are reliably fulfilling our stakeholder expectations. This means that we may need to learn some new skills.
We need to be proactive in our communication, responsive to stakeholder requests, and clear in our expectations and availability. Today we talked about how to provide proactive updates to your stakeholders, respond to incoming requests even more diligently than if you were at the office, and clearly define office hours when you will be available.
In addition to being the managing editor of Remotely Possible, Tucker Johnson is the co-owner and producer at MultiLingual Media, which publishes resources on language, technology, and business. He is also the co-founder of Nidmzi Insights, a global market research and consulting firm focused on helping companies navigate the complex waters of globalization, internationalization, and localization. Tucker is also the author of “The General Theory of the Translation Company” (available on Amazon) and teaches account management for the master’s program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and guest lectures at universities around the world.