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#WFH: Are You Communicating Effectively from Your Remote Office?

Effective communication in any environment can be challenging. Achieving virtual communica-tion that works well takes effort. It is important to establish a sense of belonging and convey a sense of well-being and support. It takes effort to find ways to express in a virtual environment what is expressed non-verbally in a F2F encounter. Communication, like relationships, grows over time. Taking short-cuts can lead to misunderstandings and ineffective interactions. Because technologies filters nonverbal messages, it is important to put extra effort into establishing human to human bonding. Cultural differences can play a big role in virtual communication but ultimately it boils down to trust. It is critical that trust is a two-way street (Sasti, 2013). It is not the quantity of communication that matters. It is the quality and predictability of communication that is the most critical. Remember in communicating virtually not to mistake noise for information or visibility for transparency.

Case in Point: Termer Construction Management, Inc.

Termer Construction provides project managers and onsite supervision for large industrial and commercial construction projects. This is a family owned business that has been around for 75 years. Founded in the Pittsburgh area, they have branched out to four continents. The positions for Termer employees are long term. Some are hired locally and many relocate for the duration of the jobs. Everything about Termer is about managing time and money, including managing people. Recently, on a large job in Manhattan things have not been going smoothly.
It became clear that the crew needed to have a meeting. The home office reported several issues. They were falling behind on the project because clashes between Termer and several of the other companies were getting ugly. Even the communication within Termer was going downhill fast, with lots of resentment, infighting and dwelling on past conflicts. The main project manager is Joe Stevens. He works in the home office with his assistant, MaryAnn Zyleski. John Peters is the onsite project manager.

It was clear to Joe that John was more interested in being right than anything else. He had been given chances, coaching and advice. Joe was going to have to let him go. Here is the conversation between John and Joe:

To: [email protected]
Subject: Sorry to have to do this

John: I think it is best if you do not come into the job tomorrow morning. I will let headquarters know that you no longer are on our payroll. I think after our “air out session” it is better if we part ways. Our HR people will be in touch with you by the end of the week. I am going to recommend we pay you through the end of the month. I think there has been too much water over the dam to turn back the clock. I wish you the best moving forward. Joe

Meet the Staff:

Joe Stevens has been with the company for many years. In his late fifties, he had seen projects like this go south before because of people not pull-ing together. “They are spending way too much time gathering evidence about being right and not nearly enough time on the job. I know I probably started this but the gossip has gotten out of hand.”

MaryAnn Zyleski was in her forties and single. She too has been around the company for a long time. “I think we need a no gossip policy and we need to enforce it. I am willing to have the difficult conversations with the subs, but I am not sure John is.”

Eventually Joe concluded this was not going to work out. Joe sent the email Sunday evening before he went to bed, at about 11:30PM.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

Do you think handled this well? Does Termer Corporate need a policy about this issue? What might it say?

Why do you think he sent this email? Was he using the right tool, at the right time, for the right connection? Why do companies want to be very specific about tools and how they are used in the virtual environment?

What does this tell you about Termer’s ability to support virtual workers in the field? Did Joe use the right communication approach? Would a phone call have been better?

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