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Managing Remote Employees

Many managers are asking the question, “How do I manage employees remotely?” Managing employees remotely isn’t too different than managing in person. Whether someone is sitting with you or in their home office, the steps involved in managing people are the same.

There are a few things effective managers do repeatedly. Do these handful of things and managing people will go well, provided you have the right person in the job. Managing someone who is a good fit for their current job is challenging but doable. Managing a person who is not a good fit for their job is extraordinarily hard. No management practices or skills supersedes hiring the right person. Hiring the right people is the single most important thing managers do. Managing and coaching employees are the next most important things managers do.

Here are the three things effective managers do:

  1. Set clear expectations:

Conversation with new/inexperienced employees: “This is what I want you to do and by when.”

Conversation with experienced employees: “What do you think needs to be done and when is a manageable deadline?”

2. Delegate:

New/inexperienced employees: “Here is my vision of how this should look.”

Experienced employees: “What’s your vision of how this should look?”

3. Review work, coach, and give feedback:

Review small pieces of work so employees can course correct as they go, reducing wasted time and frustration. Agree on a schedule to review work in process, so employees feel supported and not micromanaged.

New/inexperienced employees: “Here is what I would do differently and why.”

Experienced employees: “Here are my areas of concern. What changes do you think need to be made?”

  • Repeat

That’s all you need to do. It’s so simple. And so hard. Managing employees is very challenging.

Here are five ways to make it easier to manage well:

  1. Spend time at the beginning of working relationships and projects getting to know employees work styles and preferences and sharing your own.
  2. Check in with employees regularly, asking questions that elicit what employees need to be successful.
  3. Have frequent, short conversations. A weekly 15-minute touch base is more effective than a monthly 60-minute meeting.
  4. Do a plus/delta every time you meet, giving positive and upgrade feedback as events happen. Waiting to give feedback negatively impacts results and damages trust.
  5. Have courage and know that employees want to work for a manager who sets clear expectations and gives clear feedback. Working in the dark is frustrating and difficult.

If you’re hesitant to do any of the actions above or are worried about how those actions will be perceived by employees, tell employees that. Be authentic and candid. You could say something like, “I want to review your work more frequently than I have in the past, but I’m concerned how you’ll perceive that.” “I want to give you regular, timely feedback to be helpful to you, and know feedback can be hard to hear.”

Lastly – remote meetings can be held via video conferencing but don’t need to be. Sometimes it’s nice to talk via phone and not have to get dressed up or manage your facial expressions. If you’re not sure if you should meet with employees via video or phone, ask them. Setting clear expectations is the first step in managing all business relationships effectively.


Let’s Get Real – Realistic Work-from-Home Schedules

You’ve been on video calls for the past two hours. Your kids are bored, you aren’t accustomed to working alone at home and miss working in an office with other people, you don’t have a quiet, interruption-free environment in which to work, or your parents have called eight times.

Everyone you work with is dealing with different circumstances. Some are perfectly content working a full day at home, others are finding the experience isolating and lonely. Some have no distractions at home and others have many. But we won’t know what others are dealing with and how those circumstances impact work schedules and deliverables if we don’t ask.

Managers, employees, and coworkers need to talk to each other about the constraints they’re dealing with and what a realistic work schedule looks like right now, and those conversations may be personal. They’re likely more personal than the conversations you’ve had in the past and that may be uncomfortable.

Managers, before setting goals, assigning projects, or scheduling meetings, talk to employees about what a realistic workday looks like right now.

Here’s how the conversation could go: “I know working from home all the time is different from you’re used to. I want to get a sense of what a realistic schedule is for you and what kind of challenges you’re dealing with. We can create deadlines and deliverables from there.”

Managers share about your own situation and set expectations with your employees, coworkers and with your own boss. It could sound something like this: “I have two young kids at home and I’m bringing my parents food each day. I check and return emails before 7:00 am, while my kids are still asleep. I log back on and am available for calls from 9:00 am – 10:30 am. I’m out of commission until 3:00 pm. I work from 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm and then I’m available at night from 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm. I know it’s not ideal, but it is my reality. Let’s figure out how to ensure you get what you need from me given the schedule.”

These are the conversations we need to be having and no one wants to have them. Who wants to admit to their boss, employees, and coworkers that they’re not able to work and focus for much of the day? No one. But pretending like we can participate in six hours of video calls each day or that our availability and productivity isn’t impacted is stressful and unrealistic. We are humans working with other humans and we need to be real with one another.

Managers ask your employees what a realistic work schedule looks like and find out what they’re able to do on a given day. Employees, broach the conversation with managers and coworkers. Be honest and ask for flexibility. It’s better to set expectations upfront than to surprise and disappoint.


Pick Up the Phone – Email and Texting Doesn’t Cut It

The most frequent question I’m getting these days is how to manage business relationships (specifically employees) remotely. A future tip and blog are dedicated to this, but I’ll give you the short answer now – talk to people. Pick up the phone. You don’t need to have video calls if you don’t want to. Showering is a personal choice. You just need to talk to people.

People need human contact. We even need to connect with the people we don’t like – when we work for and with them. Text and email don’t replace talking to people.

We stopped talking to each other long before we all began working from home.  Email has been overused for years. We email the people we sit next to at work. We exchange 20 emails on one topic rather than picking up the phone. We ask permission to call our friends to catch up. Texting to ask, “Is it ok if I call tomorrow morning?” is the norm. We’ll exchange 50 texts to determine where and when to meet for lunch.

Maybe people thinking email and texting is easier, less intrusive, faster. Less intrusive, yes. Easier, sometimes. Faster, no.

Call the people you work with. Ask for the best time to call, if you like. Check-in on them. Ask how they’re doing. Yes, there may be a crying child or a barking dog in the background. It’s ok. Calls don’t have to be long. People just need contact. They need to know that you care and are ‘in it’ with them. And while you’re on the phone, get questions answered in five minutes rather than with 25 emails.


Don’t Make Decisions From Fear – Play the Long Game

We all know people who have been furloughed, taken pay cuts, or who were laid off over the past few weeks. It happened fast. Business has slowed or ceased in many industries, businesses are shut, people aren’t working.  There are loans and tax refunds in place to motivate employers not to reduce employees’ hours or to reduce headcount.

Business leaders are doing the best they can to make decisions that will keep businesses afloat. It is a difficult time to run a business and manage people.

I too am confronted by these decisions in my own business. I had a new person who was supposed to start on March 16th. I have part-timers who aren’t coming in right now. I have an open job I’m not filling.

I want to suggest you play the long game letting your personal and professional goals drive your decision making, and I know this is very, very difficult. It’s difficult for me too.

Maybe you need to lay people off or reduce hours or compensation. Communicate with those employees from a place of TLC – communicate early and often. Give as much information as you can. Be as generous as you can.

Generosity comes in all forms. It is not necessarily financial.

Tell employees the benefits that are available to them. Be realistic about when employees may receive checks. But also share how you feel about these employees and how difficult it is to reduce compensation and jobs. People want to work for people who are authentic and care about them. Don’t be afraid to show you care. Call and check-in with employees who aren’t working. Ask how they’re doing. Demonstrate concern.

There is a long game in how we make business decisions but also in how we treat people. Treat people like they’re family and you’re working to have a long-term relationship.

Lastly, try not to make decisions from fear. This is a tricky one and one I can’t say I’m doing well.  I’ve made a few too many recent decisions out of fear. But fear is not a powerful place to stand. Fear is paralyzing and limiting.

When making personal and professional decisions, consider your long-term goals. Ask, “What do I want my business to look like in one year, three years, five years? What do I need to do today to achieve those goals, within today’s scary reality.” Act from your goals, not your momentary fear. You may need to remind yourself of this from moment to moment. I know I do.

Think future. Be realistic. Act with care and humanity. Play your long game personally and professionally.


Make It Easier to Talk About Fear at Work

In all of my years of working in and with organizations, I have never heard anyone say the words, “I’m scared” at work. I’ve heard: “I’m concerned” and “I’m uncomfortable,” but never the words, “I’m scared.”

These are scary times. It’s scary to go to the grocery store, to know who it’s ‘safe’ to stand next to, and to travel.

Make it safe for employees to talk about their fears.

One of the first things I teach when I talk about change management is letting people express how they feel – their worries, hopes, and concerns. The people you work with are likely scared. They may be wondering if their job is secure, what happens if they get sick, and are they doing enough work from home with their kids present.

It’s hard to talk about fear because we think doing so makes us appear weak. Leaders and managers need to normalize the conversation. Make it ok to talk about how people feel at work.

Here are four steps to make it easier to talk about fear at work:

  1. Leaders and managers – admit what you’re afraid of. People will take your lead. Admitting how you feel demonstrates strength not weakness.
  2. Tell people it’s ok to be afraid and it’s ok to talk about fear at work. Sanction the conversation.
  3. Give more information about contingency planning, budgets and work from home and time off policies than you think you need to.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Then do it again.
  4. Create a forum for people to talk about how they feel about recent events and changes. Managers are not therapists or dumping grounds, but you are coaches. You can help people work through their work-related fears when you know what those fears are.

I’ve always believed that demonstrating our humanity at work is a strength. Being authentic makes people want to work for and with you. Admitting concerns makes you approachable and real.

Your employees and coworkers don’t need to know the details of your whole life, but they do need to see your humanity and be able to relate to you. Talk about how you feel and open the door for others to do the same.


How to Talk About Social Distancing and the Coronavirus at Work

I have a nanny who works in my home. She isn’t afraid of getting sick with the Coronavirus. She was going to the gym, before gyms were closed. I couldn’t tell her not to, however badly I wanted to. I could tell her not to come to work, but that doesn’t help me. How does a nanny work from home?

You are likely in a similar situation. You canceled your spring break trip, your direct report didn’t. You are practicing social distancing, your coworker who sits in the desk next to you isn’t. You’re keeping your kids at home; your next-door neighbors are not. Your kids want to play together.

You can’t legally tell an employee or coworker what to do when they’re not working, but you can tell your coworkers, friends, and family members that you’re uncomfortable. You can make requests and express concern.

My son is on the cusp of the cutoff to go to kindergarten in September. He just makes the deadline. I’ve been asking his preschool teacher how I decide if I should send him to kindergarten in September. His teacher’s criteria for determining if children are ready for kindergarten is self-advocacy. Can children ask for what they need and get their needs met. This is an interesting criterion that I see adults struggle with all the time.

Do we (the adults) regularly ask for what we need and want? Are we willing to be uncomfortable on our own behalf, on our employees’ behalf?

The coronavirus is testing all of us. It’s testing our patience, resilience, and self-discipline. It’s also testing our personal courage in the area of speaking up.

Here are a few ways to talk about the coronavirus at work:

Share your concerns. Tell the people you work with, “We work closely together. I’ve heard you talking about attending parties and other events with groups of people outside of work. I am very nervous about contracting the coronavirus virus. This is making me uncomfortable. I can’t tell you what to do outside of work. Can we talk about what types of social distancing we’re both willing to practice so we’re both comfortable?”

This will take courage. If you can’t advocate for yourself, who will?

Make requests. Tell your boss, “I’m really committed to the project I’m working on with _______. I’m working very hard to stay healthy and practice social distancing. I’ve heard _________ talking about going to parties and gatherings with other people outside of work. We’re working closely together and it’s making me uncomfortable. I want to be a good coworker and employee and protect myself. Can you help me?”

Self-advocacy takes courage.

Caveat – Vet any conversation you plan to have with your HR person or in-house counsel. Make sure what you ask for is legal in your home state.

Share your positive intentions:  “I want to be a good coworker.” “I want to do good work on this project.” “I want to be easy to work with.”

Share your concerns:  “I’m concerned about getting sick. I’m trying to limit my exposure to the coronavirus.”

Share your observation: “I’ve heard you talk about spending time with groups of people outside of work.” “I’ve noticed you spending time with groups of people.”

Share how you feel: “This is making me uncomfortable.” 

Make a request: “Can we talk about how we can keep each other safe?”

Creating a safe workspace and working environment requires the courage to speak up. Plan, practice, and prepare your conversations. Don’t speak off the cuff. Vet what you plan to say with your HR person or in-house counsel. Speak from your positive intention. Be courageous. Be safe.


Know Your Reputation; Manage Your Career

At some point, you’ll get passed over for a promotion, project, or piece of work, and no one will tell you why. Why should they? There is little incentive to deal with your likely (human and normal) defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing.

The problem is that this lack of information gives you no ability to manage your career.

Most people get almost no feedback at work. “Good job” isn’t feedback. Neither is, “You seem distracted.” And being told, “You just weren’t the right fit,” is utterly unhelpful.

If you want to manage your career, you need more information. Getting this information might seem scary. You might be thinking, “What if I don’t want to hear what people have to say? What happens if I hear something really bad?” People are so hesitant to give feedback, they’ll likely be ‘nice’ to you. You won’t hear anything you can’t handle.

There are people in your life who will tell you the impression you create, what you’re like to work with, and why you might not have gotten a job you really want. They’ll tell you, if you ask and make it safe to tell you the truth. Making it safe means you can’t defend yourself. No matter what the person says and how hard it may be to hear, you must respond with, “Thank you for telling me that,” even if you’re convinced they’re wrong.

The easier it is to give you feedback, the more feedback you’ll get. The harder it is to give you feedback, the less you’ll get. Remember, no one wants to deal with your defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing.

Identify five people in your life who care about you, who you trust. They might work with you now, but perhaps not. Don’t overlook your friends, family, spouse and past co-workers. Tell each person, individually, that you want to know more about the impression you make and what you’re like to work/interact with. Do this over the phone or in-person. Emailing the request doesn’t demonstrate seriousness. Ask the person to schedule a conversation with you. Send your questions in advance, so the person is prepared. Have the scheduled meeting; don’t cancel it, even if something important comes up. Consider asking: The first impression you make; what you’re like to work/interact with; the best thing about you; and one change you could make. Say, “thank you,” for the information and not more. Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions. Everyone gets defensive when receiving feedback. Defensiveness can be off-putting and scary to others. Don’t do anything to limit future feedback.

Ask these questions a few times a year. You don’t necessarily need to make any changes, based on what you learned. The point isn’t to act on the information, it’s merely to have it. Information is power, and power is control.


Manage People Who Give You ‘The Tone’ – Tone of Voice Communication

You know when someone gives you ‘the tone’, similar to when people roll their eyes at you? When you get ‘the tone’ you’re being told that the other person is exasperated.

Tone of voice is one of the hardest things to coach because we don’t hear ourselves. People who give people ‘the tone’ rarely know they’re doing it. One of the best ways I know to effectively coach tone of voice is to ask tone givers to tape themselves during phone calls. Then listen to the recording together and ask the tone giver, “If your grandmother called and someone spoke to her that way, would you be happy?” You can also read written correspondence out loud, adding the tone you ‘heard’, and ask the sender how she would have interpreted the message.

When given the tone, most people feel judged. And when people feel judged, conversations are constrained.

The way to avoid giving ‘the tone’ is to come from a place of curiosity. When you ask the question, “What were you thinking when you approached the customer that way,” you can sound curious or judgmental. Being judgmental evokes defensiveness, which shuts conversations down. Being curious creates discussion.

Consider asking questions like these to invite discussion:

• Tell me more about…
• Help me understand what happened here…
• What are your thoughts about…
• What’s the history behind….

Any of these questions will lead to a good discussion, if you manage your tone.

If you want to get information or influence someone, ask questions and engage the person in a dialogue. We often try to persuade people by giving them information. This rarely works. Instead of overloading people with data, ask questions that evoke discussion. Through discussion, you might get to a different place. And if not, you’ll at least have learned why the other person thinks as he does and you will have shared your point of view in a way that is inviting versus off-putting.

It’s easy to give people ‘the tone’ when we’re tired and frustrated. Try to avoid difficult conversations when you’re tired or stressed. Wait to have important conversations until you know you can manage yourself and your tone.


Employee Appreciation Ideas for Employee Appreciation Day and Every Day

Some people say that you show employees appreciation by giving them a paycheck and that any more thanks is over the top. We call that old school management. And it doesn’t work.

The human brain thrives on recognition. People are more likely to replicate positive behaviors when those behaviors are recognized. If your employees are doing a good job and you appreciate them, don’t make them guess. “Well, my badge still works. So I guess things are going ok,” is not sufficient recognition.

Today is Employee Appreciation Day – a made-up holiday to remind us to say “thank you” to the people we work with, who contribute every day.

Don’t take your employees for granted, or you’ll be finding new ones.

Here are six ways to mark Employee Appreciation Day today and every day:

Employee appreciation ideas 1) Ask employees what’s important to them – why they accepted the job, why they stay, and how they would like to receive recognition.

Most employees will work their entire career without a manager ever asking these questions. Getting to know your employees better and differently costs nothing but a little time.

Employee appreciation ideas 2) Ask employees about the kind of work they want to do in the future and what they want to learn and gain exposure to. Write down what they say (so you don’t have to remember) and give employees exposure to this type of work when it’s appropriate (when there’s a business need and when they’ve earned it by doing good work.)

Employee appreciation ideas 3) Give very specific, positive feedback regularly. Giving specific feedback demonstrates you’re paying attention to employees’ work and noticing the impact they’re making. Employees want to know how they’re doing. As odd as it may sound, feedback is a form of recognition. Taking the time to observe performance and give specific, timely feedback tells employees they matter.

Employee appreciation ideas 4) Tell the senior people in your organization what a great job your employees are doing. Employees have limited exposure to senior leaders. Don’t make the people who can influence your employees’ careers guess who’s doing great work.

Employee appreciation ideas 5) Take the time to write a handwritten note. In my 15 years of working in a corporate environment, I received one handwritten note from one of my managers. I kept it for 10 years.

Employee appreciation ideas 6) Spend time with your employees. Every employee needs face time with his/her boss. Don’t underestimate the value employees place on the time you give them. If you’re not meeting with your employees on a one-on-one basis regularly, start. Meet for 30-minutes once a quarter. Then meet once a month. Employees create the meeting agenda and come prepared to give you an update on their work. You should be prepared to give both positive and upgrade feedback.

Notice not one of the employee appreciation ideas or ways to recognize Employee Appreciation Day above is monetary in nature. Employees want your time and attention. They want to learn and grow. Provided employees feel fairly compensated, money is secondary.

Today, and every day, find a way to say “thank you” that’s meaningful to your employees. And the only way to know what employees will find meaningful is to ask.


Business Communication Skills – Influence by Asking Questions

When selling a product, service, or idea, people often think that providing more information is better. The more data points, the more likely the other person is to be persuaded. This is not necessarily the case. Excluding data hounds, most people don’t like to be overloaded with information. But people do appreciate the opportunity to talk about what they want and need. So if you want to sell something, give people a chance to talk.

I’ll never forget one of my first sales calls, early in my career. I was selling Dale Carnegie Training. After calling a prospect for six months, he agreed to spend ten minutes with me. Feeling rushed, I laid out all of our training brochures and quickly told him about every program we offered. Then I asked if he wanted to buy anything. He didn’t.

If I had asked a few questions and listened to his answers, I could have provided information on just the training programs he needed, instead of giving him a list of likely irrelevant options.

Selling a product or service is no different from selling an idea. You are trying to persuade someone to your way of thinking. Resist the temptation to persuade solely by educating. Instead, ask questions, listen to the answers, and then tell the person what you heard her say. If you’ve taken a listening class, you learned the practice of paraphrasing what someone said. Paraphrasing is a very old, very effective practice.

People need to feel heard and understood. From my experience, asking relevant questions, demonstrating that you listened to the answers by paraphrasing what the person said, and providing pertinent and succinct information is what people need to make a decision.


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