Remember “Knock-Knock” jokes?
Someone goes, “Knock-Knock,” and you go, “Who’s there?” And the other person answers with, let’s say, “Hike.” You say, “Hike who?” Then the other person says, “I didn’t know you liked Japanese poetry!”
Recognize that others may feel isolated to the point where it’s hurting their productivity.
Okay, maybe that won’t make it to Saturday Night Live anytime soon, but my point isn’t about being funny (good thing, right?). It’s about the fact that working at home can sometimes feel like starting a “Knock-Knock” joke…and not having anybody around to help you finish it. You’re sitting there, ready to go, but nobody’s there to pay attention. You send out emails and messages, you upload reports and files, and…not a peep from anyone out there in cyberspace.
It’s easy to think no one is paying attention to anything you’re doing. That’s because…well, they may not be.
One of the big secrets of working from home — or from any remote location — is to assume you’re being ignored and operate accordingly. This means you have to recalibrate, regroup, and do things a little differently—because the good news is there are specific actions you can take to stay engaged, stay focused, and get the job done.
There are many good reasons to check in with everyone on a regular basis—but the biggest motivator should be when someone goes “dark” and stops responding. They could be struggling if they’re new to working remotely—or worse, they may be upset or feel hurt by some virtual interaction that might have been completely misunderstood.
In other words, recognize that others may feel isolated to the point where it’s hurting their productivity — and they may end up ghosting the rest of the team to an alarming extent. It’s not enough to talk amongst yourselves about how so-and-so isn’t responding — this is a situation where you can’t afford the drama to escalate. If you don’t feel comfortable calling the person directly to see what’s going on, try asking HR or a third party to resolve the matter, before things really go sideways (and if you’re struggling with your new reality, don’t be afraid to seek help).
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Make an effort to engage all stakeholders early, even if they won’t be involved until much later in the process. This way, you make yourself known and you also avoid someone popping up at the last minute and stopping your progress in its tracks. Better to know this is going to happen at the beginning stages of a project, so you can plan workarounds or cancel the project entirely.
Engage early. Create a comprehensive stakeholder communications plan.
Who are the stakeholders? At a minimum, they are each manager that your team reports to. If your team senses that their boss is invested in the project, they will work extra hard to generate great ideas and make it a priority to meet all objectives. Stakeholders can also include end-users, salespeople, influencers, execs, and/or others with the power of approval. They might not even be part of your company and could be an external regulatory agency or customer.
For all these groups, engage early. You need to do more than generate a RACI chart, you need to create a comprehensive stakeholder communications plan. Everything that goes out, including reports, presentations, and status, must be easily understood and digested—so a stakeholder immediately raises their hand and lets you know there’s an issue.
Yes, I know, this is a big blow to the ego, but in work just like in life, most people are much more preoccupied with themselves instead of you. That’s why you need to focus on selling ideas and telling stories, not disseminating chunks of text-heavy information, or pushing out data. Treat everyone as if they weren’t in on the Zoom meeting and didn’t check out any of the follow-up messaging. Quickly recap the basics when you again communicate on a specific project. Otherwise, you’ll discover that the next meeting will be devoted to everyone trying to remember what happened during the last one!
So, knock-knock, who’s there? You are. And you’ve got to keep knocking on that cyber-door to make sure you’re heard!
Managing virtual teams comes with unique challenges. It's new to many leaders as we move into the new remote normal. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Managing Virtual Teams to get started.
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