Signs of Teleworking Trouble

August 18, 2011

Chapter 13 – Understanding and Resolving Problems

You don’t have the normal cues to find interpersonal issues so you need to use new ones. Every form of communication has additional, often unintentional, information. You need to read this information to look for signs of trouble.

There are two categories of remote warning signs: when changes happen in established patterns and when team members in the office are treated differently than those who work remotely. Every time an established pattern in your team changes it is a sign you should pay a little more attention to your team. If your chatty team suddenly stops talking it is a warning sign. If your normally quiet team becomes chatty it is a warning sign. As you get to know your team you will establish a baseline and learn to recognize changes.

If your team includes some members who are remote and others who are not, these two groups will be treated differently. Being in the same location as your manager allows them easier communication and that leads to differences. Differences that impact your work are a problem.

When you do find a problem, don’t panic. Many problems can be solved with a short conversation. If your problem is with someone specific then talk to them and see if you can resolve it. Even more serious problems are usually solved with a little time and patience.

Big or little, all problems are easier to solve if you find them early. Make it part of your normal routine to check in with your team. Take an interest in what they are doing and see if they are having any trouble. Build trust ahead of time, and keep an eye out for signs of trouble within your team. Specific warning signs include:

You notice sudden changes in the level of communication. Most teams have a baseline level of communication. There are more discussions when projects are started and less chatter when you are in the middle of the implementation. If the amount of communication on your team changes suddenly then look for a reason. If you can’t find one, then it is a sign of trouble.

Important decisions are made without you. If your coworkers are in the same location they will spend time talking without you. You can’t prevent coworkers in the same location from having conversations without you. There are some discussions you will never be part of, but it is a warning sign when most decisions are being discussed and made exclusively by people in the office.

The solution is becoming a valuable part of the decision. When you work in the office people have to go out of their way to exclude you. You will come to the meetings and overhear conversations automatically. Work remotely means people have to go out of their way to include you. Make it worth their while. Make substantive contributions to the decision making process and they will make sure to include you. You don’t have to be a superstar, just a clear net plus.

You are surprised by large personal events. If big personal events happen for your coworkers without your knowledge than that is a problem. Make sure to show an interest in your teammates. Ask them specific questions that show you know and care about their life and family.

Signs of trouble may not be actual problems. They may be indicative of a larger issue, or they may not. This makes them very difficult to judge. Take warning signs as information. Learn from them to better understand your team.

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