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The keys to managing remote work: The Three Cs

Over the course of February and March, almost all organizations were forced into some sort of remote work situation. There was no time to set up the proper infrastructure, and many organizations were ill-prepared. Maybe you scraped through the first month, but many organizations are now starting to feel the pain of this ad hoc arrangement.

This series addresses two of the main challenges organizations are likely facing. Our last post covered driving accountability with a disparate workforce. This post covers communication management.

The Three Cs of Remote Work Management

Since coronavirus threw organizations into the deep end of virtual work, there has been a lot of emphasis on enabling tools and technologies. There are a lot of tools for communication, document management and the like, and frankly, they are all adequate. The differentiator between organizations that will flop and ones that will flourish is not the difference between using Office 365 or Google sheets.

We say that the 3 Cs of remote work management are like the 3 Ls of real estate. They are communicate, communicate, communicate.

In order to be more specific, this post breaks that down into another layer of three Cs:

1) Communication Planning

Communication management requires an airtight process to make sure that changes are identified and addressed immediately. Leadership needs to command strong communication up, down, and laterally.

A formal communication process is the foundation to this. Any gap in the following process will send things off the rails.

No one can do it on their own, regardless of talent. Good leaders rely on a well-executed communication plan from all team members.

2) Cadence and Control

The key to management is to keep balls off your side of the net. That is to say: worry about your own responsibilities and leave things you can’t control to those responsible. When you take care of your own Next Steps, the “balls” tend to come back in a regular rhythm.

This is what we call establishing cadence. This is the key to being in control of your project.

We always say “Control is an objective measure.” That is, you are either defining the plan, tracking it, aware of variances and have a scorecard for the team’s work against the goal, or you are not. These are fairly hard and observable realities.

Things only get muddy because projects involve chance. Being in control does not guarantee success. Being out of control does not guarantee failure.

But control itself is (relatively) straightforward. And establishing cadence and maintaining control gives you the best chance for success.

3) Confronting Bad News

The key to successful communication management is acknowledging the positive value of sharing bad news. The impact of bad news gets exponentially worse the further into a project it gets pushed back. Tens of dollars in design will cost you thousands of dollars in testing.

Organizations with a “shoot the messenger” mentality are encouraging team members to sit on potential issues and hope they work themselves out.

Communicating bad news works best when rapport is fostered up and down the chain. Stakeholders and managers can acknowledge each others’ vulnerabilities and how they help each other. A stakeholder needs the manager to monitor and address issues. A manager needs the stakeholder to have their back when things don’t go as planned and the budget or schedule needs to change.

Managers, then, can do the same with their team members, exposing their shared vulnerabilities and their mutual need for each other.

When organizations have a culture of confronting reality instead of resisting it, the most important information can flow freely across the team.

Concluding Remarks

These three qualities are most often the differentiators for successful virtual work managers. Whether you’re communicating by Slack, Zoom, or whatever else won’t make near as much of a difference as anything discussed here.

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