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Four strategies for managing a team of telecommuters

26657635 - overworked businesswoman looking at a clock. shoot at workplaceEmployee productivity is a major concern for any manager, but it can be especially difficult to keep an eye on when some or all of your team works remotely. If you’ve experienced a drop in productivity among your telecommuting employees, then try out these strategies for increasing efficiency on your team:

Use Time-Tracking Software and Organizational Apps

A common concern managers have with remote teams is the lack of accountability when it comes to tracking hours and staying on top of tasks. Fortunately, there are several time-tracking software programs available to streamline your team’s time sheets, and organizational apps can help you delegate tasks to other members of the team, make comments along the way, and adjust deadlines whenever necessary.

You won’t be able to maximize your team’s productivity by leaving everything to chance and traditional email communications. Apps and software programs can be a tremendous help.

Set Manageable Goals

Having high expectations isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but excessive demands – especially when communicated via email or text – can be seriously demotivating for your team. Your best bet is to strike a balance between maintaining a heavy enough workload and enough flexibility to account for assignments and tasks that might need their deadlines extended. Manageable goals are significantly more motivating for employees because they get to experience small successes along the way, as opposed to stressing out over one huge goal that could be months away from attainment.

Make Yourself Available

One of the biggest issues with telecommuting workers is the disconnect that can occur on time-sensitive projects. Since you can’t simply walk across the office to a coworker’s desk to ask questions whenever they arise, team members need to be readily available during their working hours to ensure there are no out-of-control fires spreading under the radar.

However, forcing employees to check their emails whenever a new message appears in their inbox can also be a productivity killer. This means that you as the manager should set up a system for categorizing issues of importance and communicating errors and questions based on your system. For instance, you might tell your team to call you whenever a serious issue crops up, but less important or time-sensitive matters should be relegated to emails. Additionally, you should encourage your team to reach out to the next person in the chain-of-command if you’re unavailable because efficient delegating is one of the best ways to minimize problems and maximize productivity.

Ask for Daily or Weekly Summaries

This might seem cumbersome for remote employees to adjust to in the beginning, but daily or weekly summary emails are fantastic ways to get a fuller glimpse at what they accomplished during the day, any issues that arose, and what’s left to do. These recaps also help communicate any questions or concerns to you in one comprehensive email (instead of clogging your inbox with questions emailed separately).

Do workplace romances hurt your team’s productivity?

55663297_SAccording to recent studies, at least one-third of employees have likely engaged in workplace romances. Although employers generally disprove of workplace relationships, they’re still bound to happen since employees are together for the majority of their days.

Workplace romances among your team members (especially between superiors and their subordinates) could present a significant problem if you’re not prepared to deal with the possible consequences. While some companies may include clauses in their employment contracts forbidding workplace relationships, the possibility of two colleagues dating nevertheless remains.

Be sure to have a policy in place to deal with potential problems that could arise from in-office relationships. Romantic relationships are more prone to intense conflict than say, a casual acquaintanceship among coworkers. While some couples do excellent jobs of keeping their personal and professional lives separate, others unconsciously blend their two lives together, which could lead to significant problems for your office climate.

Workplace romances are tricky to navigate but oftentimes inevitable consequences of people spending a great deal of their time together. As a leader, this can be especially difficult because you have multiple employees’ needs to consider. On one hand, an unobtrusive workplace romance (one you wouldn’t know exists based on the two parties’ neutral interactions) is not likely to be a cause for concern. But it’s always important to plan ahead and be prepared for situations that don’t work out the way everyone involved had hoped.

Three tips for managing introverted employees

46737933_S-300x200It’s estimated that one-third to one-half of the world’s population is comprised of introverts. Yet research shows that many leaders have difficulty effectively managing and leading more inner-oriented employees. Here are three ways to adapt your management style to work with introverts:

1. Know your employee’s preferences. Introverts may prefer e-mails over face-to-face meetings in many instances. Many introverts also don’t like being called on in meetings unless they have had time to prepare what they plan to say. They also aren’t as likely as extroverts to highlight their own accomplishments and speak up with their own opinion and beliefs. Get to know the individual members of your team and tailor your leadership style to bring out the best in each one.

2. Give them space. Introverted employees typically thrive when left alone to complete their tasks. They also are more likely to find interruptions taxing and may do best in quiet areas of the office. Sometimes, giving an employee a choice in where they work in the office can be a tremendous help.

3. Don’t force them into socializing. Not all employees want more office parties or team bonding activities. Socializing with colleagues can be beneficial for team cohesion, but for significantly introverted employees, being forced into these activities could be more detrimental than helpful. Accept that not all employees want to socialize with others for fun, and let your introverted members of the team decide if/when to participate on their own terms instead of goading them into it.


Is your workplace suffering from tech overload?

46626512 - black and white business people working together at small officeHave you fallen into the habit of sending e-mails to communicate with our employees — even if they are just a few steps away from you? Perhaps it is time to rethink your reliance on technology to communicate with your team.

Although most people assume Millennials prefer texting and emailing over face-to-face communication, research has shown the opposite is true. In fact, many employees reportedly prefer interpersonal communication in the workplace over more tech savvy modes of communication. Why is that? Possibly because technology is prone to communication gaps, whereas nonverbal communication such as facial expressions and instantaneous feedback in a one-on-one or group meeting offers greater clarity and immediate responses to any issues or questions that arise.

Technology can have drawbacks in other areas, too. Research also has shown that humans are terrible multi-taskers. Whenever we try tackling multiple projects in one sitting, efficiency actually decreases compared with an approach that tackles projects one at a time. The reason is simple: our brains cannot handle the amount of information required to process many different assignments at the same time. We’re cognitively limited to maybe 2-3 mental tasks max and once we push that boundary, our productivity will suffer. What this means for you and your employees is that you should stop relying on technology so much because it tempts us to engage in multitasking (e.g., having several web browsers open at a time), which promotes inefficiency, despite popular (and mistaken) beliefs that we’re more productive this way.

If you’ve been in a college classroom lately, you might also have noticed most students on their computers, presumably taking notes. However, if students don’t perceive the lecture material to be valuable to their studies, then they might wander off to Facebook or other social media sites during class. Similarly, employees in meetings might be more prone to distractions if allowed to take notes from tablets or computers compared to the good old fashioned handwriting method.

Ultimately, a company culture built on primarily digital means of communication could lead to lower rates of employee satisfaction and greater inefficiency. Alternatively, reducing your team’s over-reliance on technology could build a more connected culture.

Two signs of a toxic workplace environment (and how to fix it)

46636958 - mature businessman arguing with his two co-workers in officeWhile no workplace environment is perfect, there are some companies that have toxic cultures. A toxic work environment can severely impact productivity, zap motivation, and significantly reduce employee retention. Not surprisingly, company leaders and managers have a great deal of influence over workplace culture. Here are two signs of a toxic workplace environment — and some steps to take to fix it:

Poor communication. Communication is one of the biggest issues companies struggle with, both in the workplace and in their personal lives. Business leaders must make a commitment to communicating effectively and often to their employees. Yet some companies provide little information to their employees on a daily and weekly basis. In good times and bad, employees need to understand their company’s mission, their individual roles in their companies, their company’s current condition and where their company is headed. They also need to get constructive feedback regularly — each employee deserves to know what they are doing right and wrong — not just at their annual performance review. An employee should never have to guess whether how they are doing.

Favoritism. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed. Leaders can experience unconscious bias just like anyone else, which might entail favoring some employees over others for reasons other than pure achievement and dedication to their jobs. For instance, unconscious gender bias is still common in workplaces, where women are sometimes perceived to be less focused in their jobs due to children or more likely to leave their jobs in the future when they want children. As a business leader, it’s your job to make sure that employees aren’t under the impression that only a select few favorite employees are liked by management and get opportunities to advance.

The power of saying ‘no’

57647956 - man open the hand with the text no.

As humans, we aren’t hard-wired to say ‘no.’ Psychologically, it’s a lot easier to say ‘yes’ to avoid possible conflict. But accepting everything — or most everything — that comes your way at the office and in your personal life can quickly spiral out of control. Learning to say ‘no’ is a vital skill.

Whether the request is from a client, employee, business partner or your child’s school, you likely get several invitations each week, many via e-mail. Create a few responses that you can easily cut and paste into e-mails, such as ‘I would love to attend, but my schedule is extremely full for the next month’; or ‘This sounds like an incredible community service project, but I have already committed my time to other causes right now.’ or “Thanks so much for the kind invitation, but unfortunately my schedule makes it impossible to participate at this time.’

Everyone has must-do projects and assignments. But there are plenty of time-intensive events and projects that you have a choice as to whether you want to participate. Consider whether each request aligns with your company and/or career goals. And be realistic about the time involved in each request — it’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to prepare a quality speech or presentation or organize a one-day event.

The power of saying “no” extends beyond the office. Many busy professionals take on a lot in their personal lives as well. Organizing an event at your child’s school may take many hours at a time when your child may just want to spend time with just you. Make sure you’re examining each request by others and make sure it aligns with your personal and family goals.

Three strategies for dealing with a dishonest employee

46636958 - mature businessman arguing with his two co-workers in officeDishonesty is a common human trait and everyone has lied at least a few times in their lives. In the workplace, however, dishonesty can create serious problems. If you’re struggling with an employee who is dishonest with you and members of their team, here are some ideas for dealing with the situation.

Have a private discussion. Rather than making an example of your employee in front of their peers, ask for a private meeting with them (in-person is better than via email or over the phone) to discuss the matter with nobody else in earshot of what might be an uncomfortable situation.

Approach the situation mindfully. What if you discover in your private meeting that your employee has a good reason for his or her dishonesty? For instance, if your employee has been repeatedly showing up late for work or leaving early, they could be dealing with a family emergency (a sick child, for instance). Provide your employee with an opportunity to explain themselves.

Implement accountability procedures. Once you’ve had a discussion with your employee, it’s time to start implementing measures to ensure dishonesty won’t become an ongoing issue for that individual (or the entire team). Some accountability procedures that can help you improve communication with your team include: 1) reminding all employees (rather than singling anyone out) that they are always welcome to communicate any concerns with you, no matter how small that concern may seem, 2) offering flexibility to employees who might be struggling with a personal or family issue and 3) modeling honest and ethical behavior and highlighting that type of behavior among your team.

How effective is your feedback?

47055764 - pensive man in eyeglasses listening to psychologistDone wrong, feedback sessions can be counter-productive and nerve-wracking for all concerned. Done right, feedback can be the path to employee greatness. Effectively communicating what works and what doesn’t to employees is a skill; and as with any skill there are a few principles.

Keep your cool. You may be annoyed or even angry. Leave those emotions behind. That means no sarcasm, yelling or eye-rolling. A defensive employee won’t be receptive. Let employees know you’re on the same team. Conduct the session in private.

Make it positive. There’s nearly always something you can praise. Find it. But remember, it’s not about making employees feel good. Feedback is about improving performance. Positive phrasing such as “I liked your approach on that project, but what if …” can help employees become creative partners in the effort to improve performance.

Be specific. If you don’t know exactly what employees need to do to improve, you can’t expect them to know, either. “I need more from you” is not feedback. “I need more help from you in keeping the departmental records up to date,” is better.

Limit the issues. Try to keep feedback to just one or two points. Important feedback can get lost in a laundry list of issues. A long list of things to do better can also make people feel under siege. That’s why regular feedback is so important.

Stick to the issues. Write down what you want to talk about, and stick with that. If another thing that bugs you occurs during the feedback session, make a note and address it in a future meeting.

Praise in public; criticize in private. Public criticism can ruin an employee’s day. More importantly, it can cost the company money by harming that employee’s productivity. No one minds being praised in front of others.

Should you adopt a Results Only Work Environment?

43642131 - stressed businessman working quickly with many computerThe Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) approach was initially developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson in 2001 as a way of attracting top talent through non-traditional management methods. ROWE is based on a simple premise: Work output matters more than making appearances and sticking to the clock on the same schedule as everyone else. It heavily emphasizes task delegation, employee independence, and work flexibility (both time and location), which could be ideal for introverts, working parents, students, and employees with difficult commutes.

ROWE isn’t perfect, of course, but adopting even a partial ROWE strategy could be enormously beneficial for your employees’ satisfaction and productivity. Here are a few considerations to make before incorporating it into your management approach:

Does Location Really Matter?

If many of your employees spend the majority of their days on computers, then why does it matter that they complete assignments in the office? Many employees could be more productive on their own time and in their own location (not having to commute to the office, for instance).

Does your team need face-to-face collaboration?

ROWE isn’t for everyone. Even the CEO of Best Buy tried ROWE, only to later switch back to traditional approaches to work. Some people don’t work as well on their own isolated from the rest of the office or at home. Some employees need the structure of the office environment and face-to-face collaboration with other team members. Some projects and tasks are best handled by a team in the same location.

Surprisingly, a recent university study found that the Millennial Generation actually prefers face-to-face communication, which indicates that allowing employees to work anywhere they want could hinder your team’s communication. It can be tough to communicate only by e-mail and phone. Face-to-face communication can rapidly solve problems and put out fires, while a ROWE strategy that allows employees to respond to emails and calls whenever they’re available can be detrimental in urgent situations.

What are your priorities for your team?

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself: What are my top priorities for my team? Do I value having them all in one place with me and seeing the visual proof of progress towards task completion? How does each team member work best? ROWE could certainly be useful for reliable employees with challenging work/life conflicts (e.g., living far away from the office, erratic schedules for their children or college classes, etc.) and employees who simply prefer working as independently as possible. But ROWE is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. The key is to use ROWE when it makes sense — to an employee and to the company.

A new year, a new look for your Linkedin page

26475166 - linkedin website on a computer screenA well-kept, professional Linkedin page is a great networking tool. Is it time to give your Linkedin page an update?

Start with your photo. How long has it been since you had a professional photo taken? If you can’t remember, it’s probably time for a new one! Next up: Your Linkedin URL. Are you using a customized Linkedin URL? You can improve your Google search ranking by using your first and last name — with no spaces — as your unique URL. If that combination isn’t available, you could add on another identifying word to the URL, such as one of the strengths you want to be recognized for — leadership or management, for example. While we’re on the subject of strengths, you’ll want to identify four or five of your top strengths and use those words in as many of your profile descriptions as possible. For step-by-step instructions to customize your Linkedin URL, check out this guide.

Have you fully personalized your Linkedin page? The most successful networks are built by adding a personal touch to all of your professional interactions. Do this by staying in touch with colleagues from current and past workplaces. Every so often, send a customized, personal note or some helpful information to members of your network. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. Posting these on your LinkedIn profile will add to your credibility.

Don’t forget to post friendly, helpful and professional content on a regular basis. For example, you could share congratulations to a colleague who earned a promotion or an interesting article relevant to your Linkedin contacts. For example, find a plethora of leadership articles and insights in Linkedin’s leadership center. Linkedin has similar centers for entrepreneurs, small business owners and many other types of business professionals.

It’s a new year — make sure your Linkedin page is an effective tool for helping you connect with other professionals and help others hone in on your strengths and personal brand.