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If you’re leading virtually, make it a point to be accessible to your staff

Today’s blog post is Strategy #13 in our ongoing video series on tips for leading virtually.  And today’s idea is to find ways to make yourself easily accessible to your staff.

Make yourself accessible to your staff

One of the challenges in leading virtually is that your remote team members have a natural tendency to leave you out of the loop on important issues simply because you’re not as accessible to them.  When your staff were all in one place, it was relatively easy for them to walk down to your office, or catch you at the photocopier or the coffee station, and fill you in.  Now I sometimes get pushback on this.  People say to me, “Merge, we have email, my staff can send me a note any time they need me to be aware of something.”  While you’re right in theory, the practicality is that it’s not always easy to outline an issue or problem in writing, sometimes your employees just want to discuss something with you.  And it you’re not easily accessible, it falls by the wayside.  So proactively deal with the potential issue by making yourself accessible.

How, you ask?  I have two specific ideas.

Idea #1: Set office hours

First, set office hours.  Remember when you went to university or college and your professors would set office hours – specific times during the week when you would be guaranteed to find the professor in his/her office and available to talk to you.  This is the same idea.  Set office hours – specific times during the week when your employees know they can call and that they will get you “live” on the phone or video chat.  Even if the phone switches over to voice mail, they know it’s likely because you’re talking to another employee, and you’ll call them back fairly soon.  Block this time off on your schedule so that no one schedules over it, and treat this block as golden.

Idea #2: Make your calendar visible and bookable

Second, make your calendar visible to and bookable by your team members.  This addresses a couple of very important needs.  By making your calendar visible to your team, they now know when you’re in a meeting and therefore unavailable.  It helps them to be more proactive in finding a time to talk to you.  And by making your calendar bookable, your staff can now schedule a 15- or 30-minute slot to discuss things with you.  Now, I know what some of you are thinking – Merge, if I make my calendar bookable, it will get overrun with these impromptu 15- or 30-minute meetings.  No, it won’t!

Remember, if you’re following strategy #10 in this series (which was to have weekly structured one-on-one meetings with your staff), your team members won’t need these impromptu meetings as often as you might think.  So your worry about your calendar being overrun is unfounded.  The positive is that by making your calendar visible to and bookable by your staff, you are creating a climate in which your people can overcome their natural tendency to leave you out of the loop on important issues simply because you’re not as accessible to them.  What you are really doing is to set yourself up to AVOID one of the biggest pitfalls of leading virtually.

Catch up on previous strategies in this series on leading virtually:

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