Earlier this week, I started up a dialogue about how to facilitate working relationships when you have staff who work remotely and at a distance from their home office colleagues, and my first suggestion was to set expectations for work hours and communication standards. Here is a second idea to make long-distance leadership work more effectively: insist that complaints about problems must be accompanied by recommended solutions.
The unfortunate truth is that sometimes, when employees are remote, it becomes very easy for them to blame the “home office” for anything that goes wrong. Common refrains – “Oh the folks in the home office simply don’t understand what we do in the field” or “Great, here’s another stupid rule from the head office”. I suspect that if you have “virtual” staff, then you know exactly what I’m talking about! When this happens, don’t just accept the complaints and concerns at face value. Instead probe your employee for possible solutions. “How can we resolve this?” and “What needs to change to make this better?” are questions that you need to ask. This doesn’t mean that you’re minimizing the employee’s concern, nor does it mean that you agree with the complaint, but this approach requires that your employee think about the situation, and be accountable for more than just finding fault. Perhaps more importantly, it opens a dialogue about how the problem can be fixed. When I used to manage staff, I was adamant about this. So much so, that my staff expected nothing less. When my off-site staff would complain about something, they would invariably follow it up with “Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” At least my message was getting through!
So now it’s your turn. What other ideas or tips do you have to offer to smooth the long-distance leadership relationship? Are you doing (or not doing) something specific? Please share your success with the rest of us.