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A question I get asked often is, what’s more effective, in-person teams or remote teams?

My answer is: it depends on how the team is run. If you run a remote team as if it were an in-person one (same types of meetings, same types of conversation, with the only difference being that you use Zoom and Slack instead of walking to your colleague’s desk), you will get terrible results.

If you are unwilling to adapt your management habits and train your managers and colleagues to communicate online better, don’t bother going remote. Keep your team close.

However, some teams don’t have a choice. They must go hybrid or remote – they need to compete for talent, team members are based in different offices, or any other reason. In that case, the only way to maintain engagement and effectiveness is to adapt.

Here are the three most important adaptations.

1) Teach your people how to communicate. If they are unable to write emails concisely, they will waste hours (theirs and their readers’). If they are unable to talk clearly, they will lose their listeners.

You cannot just assume that people know how to be effective online communicators, nor can you leave that to luck.

That said, don’t send them through a communication course – it’s often too daunting and irrelevant. Instead, do the following. First, share a few examples of good and bad communication (“this is a good email, short and to the point; this one is unnecessarily long…”). Then, give them feedback (“great email, but it could have been half the size” or “excellent, you’re becoming more concise without losing clarity, good job!”).

Similarly, if you are a manager of managers, you cannot just assume that they know how to manage remote teams unless they did before. Train and coach them.

2) Be unambiguous. Don’t be clear enough to be understood; instead, be so clear that you cannot be misunderstood.

This is especially important in remote environments, where people are less likely to ask for clarifications than in person and where misunderstandings are more likely to go uncovered for long. Pre-empt misunderstandings before they happen by being extra clear when apparently unnecessary.

3) Don’t manage people only using tools that scale. It’s tempting to use online tools (Slack, project management software, corporate-wide emails, etc.) to communicate more efficiently. But there is information that only surfaces during one-on-ones (moods, doubts, ideas, concreteness, etc.).

It is okay to send team-wide emails. But then, during the next one-on-one, ask if they have questions.

Similarly, it’s okay to use project-management software. But then, during the next video-team-meeting, ask if there are problems or opportunities uncaptured by the tool. (And don’t ask it generically; instead, use questions such as “any reason why this project might get delayed?”)

There is much more to say (e.g., the absence of serendipitous opportunities for conversation means that you must be more deliberate about them, etc.). But the main point is the following. If your team recently transitioned to hybrid or remote, you have to proactively change some of the ways in which you manage it.

If you need support to improve the effectiveness of your remote or hybrid team, I can help. Send me an email.

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