I can’t see you, but I can hear you.

Hot off the presses, happened today and I’m honestly asking what to do? I have monthly meetings that take place between individuals located in different locals and I’ll get straight to the issue. What I’m running into is that Action Items that were outlined in previous meetings keep coming up over and over again. Last month, we ended with “Okay, this needs to be done, we’ll get this and that done.” Then, when we get to the next meeting a month later, nothing’s been done, there was no Action. It should be noted here to that this is a lateral project so I’m providing support, not managing. That support is based on data collected in-between meetings and so I can only be as effective as the information that is collected for me. By the time this conference call was to take place I was very frustrated and didn’t really know how to respond.

What’s going on?

The situation is systemic, but how do we correct a systemic issue when I can’t be there to help solve the problem. And does it stem from management on their end, or is it my responsibility to follow up?  So, going into the conference call, I wasn’t sure what to say since the latest round of items we were to address were based on information I was supposed to have received. Now, I’m sitting there with no results. And these results (data points) are supposed to go into a set tools to analyze their systems; it’s designed to help them and their project.

The Conversation

So, since we got straight into it and since I was the lead, I took the initiative in asking: “What’s going on? These same action items keep coming up over and over again and nothing is getting done. I followed with and maybe a little too bluntly that: “The results of this data collection will help you and your project. So what’s the problem?” Unfortunately I didn’t wait for an answer and followed it up with “How can I help facilitate the collection of this data when I have no physical presence at that location?” This is perhaps where I paused and asked them to fill me in but I’m sure the tension in my voice was not hidden over the speaker phone.

Their reply was: “we’re so busy with other tasks that this stuff gets lost in the shuffle.” It should be said that these are minor data points but, they could have huge impact if at the right moment we were looking at the data and bam! It tells us what’s going to happen in the very near future which is what it’s supposed to do. All it takes is once and that data collected has paid for itself in spades as it could save the company a lot of money. But, since it’s a very rare occurrence it gets kicked aside for more important issues, more immediate issues. How do you deal with something like that?

Expert’s Input: in Effective Communication Tips: Transforming Your Remote Workforce Into a Collaborative Unit, Syed Balkhi discusses three ways that Effective Communication Starts With Listening. Two are listed below as they directly relate to this situation:

  • When conducting meetings, you must create an environment in which your team feels safe to freely express their ideas and opinions whether they agree or disagree with you. Make it a forum where each person can resolve issues in a creative way.
  • Do not interrupt team members when they are speaking. When team members are airing their ideas and you don’t agree with what is being said, instead of thinking about your response, really listen to what is being said.Loud

In my conversation, I’m not sure I didn’t interrupt or talk over. Looking back, I might have been talking over someone and in the heat of the moment it’s so easy to fall into the common trap of “I’m right and you’re gonna hear about it!” So, maybe I did it wrong; not sure, let’s continue.

The Conversation Continues

Again, I asked and pressed: “Please, if this isn’t going to get done, let’s just take it off the agenda.” That wasn’t the right way to deal with it but that’s where I was at. So, next, do I throw out the possibility of me reminding them on a regular basis? I don’t want to micromanage them or the situation. They said “Hey, were at a place that we were collecting these things but of late it’s just been too crazy and yes, would you please remind us on a weekly basis of what needs to be done?” I’m not their boss and so is this a healthy solution to the problem?

Expert’s Input: Being an e-manager, an article put out by Flexibility.co.uk Ltd, they discuss People skills at a distance and one of the two important principles that apply here is: “… maintain a high level of contact – encouraging a two-way (and colleague-to-colleague) flow of communication” In the same article it also says” “In some ways, managing remotely means being in closer touch with staff than ever.” That is so true and yet what percent of the business around the world recognize that? I don’t have an answer but it’s something to think about.

ConferenceThe Solution

To me, the right way would the teach those collecting the data the “why” of why we need the data which would give them some sort of ownership and produce better results. Maybe though understanding they will see the need and be motivated to follow through. The guys I was talking to wanted to go the technical route and have a system send out reminders but is that the right way? Aren’t we supposed to instruct in a manner that there is no need for technology since there is understanding? Or, maybe not, maybe I’m just over analyzing this situation and since I’m not there, when I asked, what can I do to help and they said “remind us” the conversation ends there. I’m not in their shoes and me trying to get there is proving difficult.

So, there it is. If you have an issue with something, but you can’t get there for hands on eyes on, and you’re having difficulty getting perspective on the situation, then you need to trust those who are actually there to request the right kind of help from you. Your only job after that is to comply. If it doesn’t work, then you come together and try something else. But at least by now, there is a platform where this conversation can take place. The next thing I need to do, is get over there and have a face to face as I reference in one of my other posts In your face time!: “The fact that you establish some kind of human contact is important because then the remote meetings — or the collaborative but not co-located meetings — are reinforced by these personal experiences.”

If you haven’t already, trust in the people you’re working remotely with to give you the right information since they are trusting you to do the same.

Image Credits: Sketches by Author

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