Merge's Blog

Communicating with your remote employees – be thoughtful about the medium

In our continuing series on how best to be an exceptional leader of remote employees, last week I blogged about the importance of getting to know them personally.  Today’s tip: be thoughtful about the communication medium you use.

Think about the medium!

Depending on what you are trying to achieve, certain types of communication work better than others.  As a general rule, the more direct and uncomplicated the situation, the written word can be more effective.  And the more complex and thorny the situation, a verbal conversation becomes a necessity.

Email is best for quick interactions that are fairly straightforward and task-oriented.  Chat programs such as Skype or Google Hangouts are great for quick instant messages and for creating a team chat environment.  But there are certain kinds of communication that should only be handled over the phone.  Any issue that is complicated or emotionally-laden should at minimum occur in a live telephone call.  Ideally face-to-face would be better, but obviously that’s usually not a choice with virtual teams.  However, if you can even have these conversations via video chat, you’ll be in a better position to pick up visual cues of what is going on with the other person.  Any sensitive issue such as performance problems should always be, at minimum, voice-to-voice.

Be thoughtful about how you communicate from a distance with your remote employees, and you’ll end up with better outcomes than if you didn’t.

I frequently hear horror stories about how remote employees get emails on subjects that would have been much better handled over a telephone call.  I would love to hear your experiences.  No names required, and feel free to change some of the details to protect confidentiality.  But please do share … because the more we talk about this subject, the more likely we are to get better at communicating with our remote employees.  Let’s learn from one another.

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