Open Your Digital Doors: Communication and Remote Work The shift to a decentralized workplace has required a shift in management style. Encouraging meaningful check-ins will help lead your team to success.

By David Partain

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The pandemic has been anything but a cakewalk for businesses as it has forced companies to scramble financially and make tough decisions without a clear sense of what the future might hold. Yet not all of the results of the virus crisis are negative: One of the best things to come from the pandemic is much of the workforce has shifted to remote work. This change is one of the best things that's come out of the experience because without the usual connections around the water cooler, managers have to be intentional about communicating with their teams to achieve success.

Meaningful check-ins

Check-ins through Zoom or other options aren't a perfect substitute for face-to-face interactions, but they still allow you to see how everyone is doing and get on the same page. In addition, they offer a way to ask questions, show empathy, and keep relationships going.

The cadence of your check-ins is essential. The goal, just as with traditional meetings, is to find a sweet spot where people have enough time to communicate but not so many meetings that they feel overwhelmed or unproductive. That will be different for every business because every business has different goals, resources, and team sizes. Experimenting will let you discover the perfect number of check-ins.

In my own company, we started meeting every other day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). When we found that was too much, we tried twice a week (Tuesday, Thursday). That wasn't right either, and we finally settled on meeting every Monday for an hour, which let us connect quickly at the beginning of the week. Then we scheduled ad hoc individual meetings as necessary. Being open to trying different combinations allowed us to discover what worked.

Even with our team meetings, I still understood that there are plenty of things people logistically or emotionally need to talk about one-on-one. So on top of the weekly Monday meetings, I set up a three-hour block of office time where people could schedule a chat. Anybody on my team took precedence over other work during that block. Those hours gave people a way to come to me and tell me what they needed, which helped them feel like and see that I was on their side.

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Seek to understand

Remote and office work environments are not the same. There are different challenges to working from home than being in an office and you have to proactively figure out the specific things your remote people need to overcome their unique hurdles.

One area this played out in many businesses is around technology hardware – specifically computer monitors. Most employees have grown used to working on multiple large screens to let people view multiple tasks comfortably and efficiently. When they went remote, they suddenly had to try getting projects done on smaller laptop screens or even tablets. Many leaders responded by allowing workers to take their monitors home or purchasing additional monitors so people could pivot between the office and home if needed.

As your business and the post-Covid environment evolve, the needs your remote workers have will evolve, too. Keep connections open and continue to seek input about what would be helpful.

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Manage based on outcomes

Before the pandemic, leaders generally measured performance by looking at metrics and assessing the face-to-face interactions they had with people. For example, they could factor in whether someone seemed upset or stressed because it was visible in the open. Just being present influenced the perception of dedication.

In a remote environment, this doesn't work. You can't see your people every minute, so you have to stop micromanaging, trust them to do their jobs, and evaluate more based strictly on whether objectives were met. Presence doesn't have as much weight, even though it's still important to check in. Understand your employee's situation and convey that you're there to help them be as successful and productive as possible.

This new reality means you'll need a clear process for analyzing what's going on in a more supportive way. What's worked for me is having accomplishment reviews every month. Unlike performance reviews, which usually highlight "problem areas" and center around goal setting through the leader's lens, the accomplishment reviews focus on what the employee could get done and their aspirations. They're meant to recognize progress and provide some encouraging recognition without ignoring mishaps that happened along the way. Keeping the meeting positive and getting the worker to reflect on what went well or what they want gives them a better sense of ownership and builds their confidence.

Rise to the occasion with a new set of priorities

Many companies didn't have a choice about whether to go remote. They had to adapt or risk losing market share or shuttering for good. The lack of choice has not stopped businesses from rising to the occasion. Thrust into a more decentralized workplace, managers have the chance to be more intentional with their actions and communications. They can prioritize check-ins, understand needs, and manage based on outcomes to meet or even exceed the productivity and profit they achieved through in-office work. Customize the approach for the unique circumstances facing your business to maximize your results.

Wavy Line
David Partain

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CMO of FlexShares

David Partain is SVP of Northern Trust and CMO of their subsidiary, FlexShares Exchange Traded Funds. He has over 15 years of marketing, sales and finance expertise and was named one of the "20 Rising Stars in Finance" by the Gramercy Institute.

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