If your remote teammates are driving you crazy by constantly interrupting, sending messages and emails at all times of the day and night, or dragging you into too many meetings, there is definitely a problem. Contrary to what you might think, that problem may be you.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we teach people how to work with us and what to expect. It sounds ridiculous, because who wants people to think their time doesn’t matter? Nobody. Nonetheless, often we act in ways that send unintended messages.
How to train people to annoy you
Here’s a list of simple behaviors many of us do without thinking that communicate those unintended messages (and result in consequences we definitely do NOT want):
- Responding to emails and chat messages as quickly as possible.
- Only putting existing meetings on shared calendars, giving the impression you have lots of unscheduled time to join other meetings
- Not clarifying expectations and time frames around requests, assuming every request is an immediate priority
- Not utilizing status updates, out of office messages, and do-not-disturb notifications during the day
How do those behaviors lead to making us a little crazy? It’s because each of us goes about our work with a set of assumptions (mostly that people think and act like we do) and a healthy dose of good intentions. We want to be seen as a good teammate, responsive and helpful. As a result, we act in ways that can be misinterpreted when others don’t know what we’re really thinking.
For example, if you are constantly being interrupted by chat messages or emails to the point where it’s interfering with other work, ask yourself: Why is this happening?
There is a very good chance that you have unintentionally given people the sense that if they need something in a hurry, you’re the person to go to. If you’re always the first person to respond, after a while a reasonable person gets the idea that they should just come to you for everything. After all, they get what they need when they need it, and aren’t you a great teammate? Your good intentions sometimes produce unintended consequences.
How to send the right signals to your remote teammates
Here are a few very simple (not easy, you’ll probably have to break some habits and struggle at first) ways you can reassert some control over your time and energy:
- Use your do not disturb and out of office statuses. If you are constantly “green,” people reasonably assume you are available. If you have a program like Slack, that allows you to customize your status messages, writing something like “working on a project and will return your message after 2 PM” may help your coworkers set expectations and ease your own guilt. They know you will get to them when you can.
- Block time on shared calendars that you don’t want interruptions. Project work like writing projects or analysis requires focus. Since your brain can really only operate at peak efficiency for 35 or 40 minutes, don’t be shy about making yourself unavailable for those times. That way people can’t hijack your calendar.
- We often respond as if something is urgent when it really isn’t. Check assumptions and priority of requests before going down the rabbit hole. Does Bob really need that answer immediately, or can it wait til the end of the day.
- Put time frames and other very specific details at the beginning of your emails and messages, and encourage others to do the same. Help each other prioritize your work. We often put time frames in the subject line: “Can you help? Need by Tuesday.” That way people know at a glance if they need to drop everything to help.
- Stop responding when you’re supposed to be unavailable. If you are constantly answering messages while you’re officially in a meeting, you’ve basically told people it doesn’t matter if you’re in a meeting. Have your do not disturb on but responding? That tool no longer is a deterrent to interruptions.
- Turn off the notifications, especially audio notifications, for your tools when you don’t want to be interrupted. Find time frames (start small, like every 20 minutes) to check messages rather than jump every time a new message comes in.
You’ll notice that most of these solutions demand some discipline on our part. There is a balance between being a good, responsive teammate and constantly sacrificing your work and sanity for someone else. It’s up to you to help others respect your time, energy, and work.
Communication is a huge part of being a great remote teammate. This course will help ensure that working from home actually works for you (and the rest of your team).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.