Keys To Remote Management – Key #2: Look Them In The Eyes


July 22, 2020

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You might be thinking, how can looking them in the eyes be part of an article about remote management? The answer: video.

Managers around the world will attest to the importance of communicating face-to-face with employees, and managers with outsourcing 1.0 backgrounds (my term) will tell you that you HAVE to get on a plane and visit everyone at least once a year, if not several times. Well, in our new digital age, that can not be the answer anymore. Too much valuable work gets done remotely, and consumers expect lower prices for goods and services. There are whole companies of distributed workers who are succeeding, so the airplane can’t be the only way. And it isn’t.

Now before I expound on that, I have to pause and confess that I do get on a plane several times a year and visit my distributed teams. I do this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it makes looking them in the eyes easier. To state it simply, there is an element of laziness in it. But I understand that it isn’t necessary. With the confessional over, let me get back to expounding…

Turn on your webcams. Look into each other’s eyes. What just happened?

You had to turn and face your webcam. A phone call can be only half listened to, but if you are looking them in the eyes, then they have your attention, and these days your attention is being fought over by notifications, texts, emails, etc. Here is a tip: put the window with the other person’s image in it as close to your camera as possible, so when you look at them, they see you looking at them!

You see them as a person, not just a voice coming out of a speaker. Strangely, seeing them as a person helps us treat them as a person, and we become more human ourselves. In the same way that people will say things in an email that they won’t say in a conference call, people will say things on a call that they won’t say on video when looking at you. Keep your calls productive and professional by keeping the camera on.

Don’t underestimate the importance of body language. I feel like I’ve heard that line before… but it is true. Rolled eyes, a glance at another person in the room for approval, or a general look of confusion help us adjust the speed and tone of dialogue, or to stop and assess where we are in the conversation. Being able to see those cues dramatically improves communication.

All of these benefits also apply to the other person. They had to turn and face their webcam and give you their attention. They are now interacting with a person, not just a voice. They can see if you are distracted, confused, or stone-faced when they pitch their idea, or present an idea.

A few parting thoughts to consider as you implement video:

– Agree to use video with those you are calling ahead of time. People don’t want to be caught on a work-from-home-day in their bathrobe with piles of dirty laundry in the background.
– Create ground rules. If it is a group call, keep all conversation at a volume level where everyone can participate. No whispering away from the camera, or extended muted sessions. Everyone should act as if they were in one room. It would rarely be appropriate to ask half of the room to get up and leave so a few can have a private conversation, so don’t do it here.
– If you need to review a document or share a screen together, you are no longer looking them in the eyes. Whether your web conferencing software supports simultaneous screen sharing and your webcam feed is not the question. It doesn’t count. The benefits I mentioned above all disappear. So review the document or slide deck, and then get back to the video, and make it count again. If an extended discussion develops during the review, ask that the screen share be turned off until the discussion is over.

After all of this, if you have the time and money, I would still recommend getting on a plane and visiting your people. However, I have observed that some organizations use it as a crutch. Before you buy a plane ticket, make sure that you have a video call with every person, or every group, that you would meet with on site. Discuss your key topics openly and ask for real feedback. Do this regularly for a while and then schedule your trip, if you still need to. At least at that point you will be visiting with your new friends rather than meeting co-workers for the first time.

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