Managing remotely is like herding cats by email.One of our clients used a great line the other day, and I thought it might make you feel less alone in the world. She told me, “Managing is like herding cats, and managing remotely is like herding cats by email.”

Ever feel like that?

Well, I have two reactions to that statement…

The first is, “I totally get it.”

Management, particularly project management, often feels like we’re out of control, and it’s a constant battle to keep all the thousand little parts of our work moving in the same direction.

My second response, though, is “Well…maybe you’re using the wrong tool.”

Email is the thread that runs through all our business communication.

We use it for documentation, preparation, updates and a hundred other purposes. It is the most commonly used tool in business today (amazing, since it only emerged 25 years ago).

On the other hand, over-reliance on email can result in misinterpretation, hurt feelings, missed deadlines and more.

The trick with email is to know both how to use it, and when to use it.

How, is fairly simple. You write a message and hit send.

When to use it, requires more judgment. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is my message going to be interpreted the same way by all team members? If not, maybe you need to take the time for a conference call, recorded video message or even individual check-ins.
  • Has the conversation been going on for a while? Endless email threads often become “visual white noise,” and the messages don’t get the attention they deserve. Try compiling a new document with a new subject line that has all the relevant information, both background and call to action so people won’t ignore it.
  • Does your message really answer the important question: “So what does this mean to me?” Just because you understand how your message impacts each individual, doesn’t mean they do. Check your written work for clarity.
  • Do you really need to be in the middle of things at all? If it seems like you’re doing all the herding, maybe it’s time to let the cats corral themselves. Are there functions where you should be guiding teammates to work together without your deep involvement? This is hard to do (control is a bear to surrender) but over time will reduce the amount of herding you need to do.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the communication flying around your team?

Maybe it’s time to corral those kitties.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by email overload, you aren’t alone. Check out the Remote Leadership Institute‘s new video course, Writing and Managing Email. With the strategies that you’ll learn in this program, you’ll be more efficient, productive and successful in all of your written and electronic communications.


Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. He works with organizations around the world to help people use technology to lead people and projects and build productive human connections in an increasingly remote and virtual work environment.

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