By Wayne Turmel

In a virtual class the other day, we got into a big discussion about how people know what we’re doing when we aren’t in the office, and how managers and co-workers are supposed to be mind readers. “If they’re supposed to be at work, and their status says they’re working, why don’t they answer me?” one manager asked, huffily.

There are plenty of reasons, actually. Maybe they were in the middle of something else, and wanted to actually focus and complete that task. Maybe they were taking their first “bio break” of the day. Or they’re playing Minesweeper and can’t be bothered. The truth is, you don’t know. You can’t.

Sometimes this doesn’t matter. Just about the time you start getting cranky, your inbox dings and you have your answer. Sometimes they get back to you with an explanation. But there’s been some frustration, paranoia and unnecessary stress along the way.

Help your team help each other (and you!) by telling each other what you’re doing, when you’re away, and how and when you can help. A simple way is by leveraging the status updates in your email and instant messaging or collaboration tools.

The manager in our class was frustrated because people either said they were available, then obviously weren’t, or unavailable completely (offline or away with no explanation.) That helps, but not as much as it could. These are some of the status updates that actually help people get work done:

  • I’m in today, but tied up and will get back to you as soon as possible.
  • I am in today, but unavailable from ______ to ____ (with an explanation if appropriate).
  • I am out but can be reached in another way (cell phone, text, whatever).
  • I am out, and here’s how you can still get what you need (who else you can contact for help).
  • I am out, but if you look at my shared calendar you’ll see when I’ll be available.

By taking the effort to be specific about what’s going on, and offering to put the other person’s mind at ease, you can maintain productive, trusting work relationships, and still manage your precious time effectively without increasing everyone’s stress levels.

Do you know how well your team is communicating? How well they are using the technology that is available to them?

Download our powerful Team Tech Assessment tool to help uncover gaps and areas that need further exploration. This is an extremely valuable tool in your journey to succeeding in the virtual environment. Get immediate access here


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

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

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