We are bombarded with interruptions and distractions every day. They hamper our ability to focus on the tasks at hand and accomplish what we must get done. Frustration is a common response to the endless requests for our time and attention, which often require us to work late or at home.
Conversely, our individual and collective efforts have a global impact, given all the tools and technologies available to us. Step back and consider this: Two lifetimes ago, the telegraph was the fastest way to communicate with people far away. One lifetime ago, the telephone replaced the telegraph. Today, we can see and talk to people on the other side of the world in real time via videoconference. The ripple effects of our accomplishments are far-reaching.
Much has changed, so the way we work together must continually evolve. Balancing the need to meet our own objectives while facilitating the efforts of others is one way we can evolve our work behaviors.
This three-part series focuses on three specific areas where we can be more productive when working alone or on a team:
- Part 1: Leveraging Distributed Work Environments
- Part 2: Running the Day Productively
- Part 3: Demonstrating Global Leadership
Six Strategies for Leveraging Distributed Work Environments
Globalization continues to redefine how we work. Colleagues and clients are scattered across the country, the continent and the globe. Finding new ways to work together productively is vitally important to our success and the success of our organizations. Consider these suggestions to maximize productivity while working in these new distributed work environments.
1. Start a Meeting Diet
Cut meeting frequency, length and attendance in half. One way to keep colleagues and team members energized and engaged is to challenge the very existence of every meeting on the calendar. Does it regularly produce a measurable result, or did it start innocuously enough, only to grow into an insidious, recurring status update? Good meetings drive results. Bad meetings demoralize people.
Start by cutting the number of meetings scheduled in half. Additional meetings can be added if needed. The same goes for the length of the meetings. Cut all one-hour meetings to 30 minutes and all 30-minute meetings to 15. Announce the end time at the beginning and watch how much more focused the participants are.
Finally, does everyone invited really need to be there? Start challenging yourself and team members to selectively invite and attend meetings.
2. Demonstrate Meeting Etiquette
Use agendas, talking points and address late entries and early exits. Having meetings without pre-identified agenda items is like traveling to a new destination without directions. Require agendas for all meetings, with specifically identified owners for each item, as well as a time allotment. Schedule additional items for the next meeting and assign ownership to the person who brings up the item.
Meeting attendees have a responsibility to come prepared. Specifically, participants should prepare their talking points for each agenda item prior to arrival. We pack before we leave on a trip, so why can’t we prepare for a meeting?
We will inevitably be late to some meetings and occasionally have to leave early. Unfortunately, this seems to be reason for fanfare in the modern world. It’s the responsibility of the person who comes late or leaves early to minimize the disruption. Treat meetings with the same respect given to classroom settings in school.
3. Prioritize Clarity Over Convenience
Communicating the message is job No. 1. Communicating with others — colleagues and clients — is the most important thing we do. Communication is hard. Mixing in distributed work environments and globalization makes it harder.
Email is a terrific communication tool that facilitates the modern workplace when used properly. Unfortunately, email is often overused, and in ways that make communication inefficient and arduous. There are a number of additional communication methods available, each with its own specific value — meetings, calls, and texts or chats are the most common of these email alternatives.
Consider this toolset:
- Meetings and calls are best for collaborative or creative efforts.
- Email is best for directives or information dissemination.
- Texting or chat is best for short information bursts or single-word response questions.
Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our communication in the modern, global workplace requires us to consider which method — which tool — is best suited for each message.
4. Leverage Flex-Time – Acknowledge the Global Playing Field
We live in a global world. Someone else is working while we’re sleeping, and vice versa. Email is a great tool for communicating over numerous time zones, but sometimes we need to talk live. Consider when a live conversation might be a better medium for communication, even if it means impinging on time away from the office. It’s never the first choice, but perhaps you can make up for these flex-time calls by doing yourself and your family a favor and attending a midday school event once in a while too.
5. Employ Hard Stops and Use Elevator Pitches
Get to the point quickly. Time is limited and non-renewable. A great way to keep people focused is to tell them you have a “hard stop” at a specific time, which lets others know they need to make their points and ask their questions with little to no fluff.
Similarly, when faced with a hard stop, communicate in elevator-pitch mode. State the conclusion or ask the question, include three or four specific facts or reasons, and then stop talking.
The other person will either agree, answer or ask for further information.
6. Direct Your FYIs – Point Out the Relevant Information
Forwarding information to others can be a quick way to keep the information flowing. However, doing it poorly has the opposite effect. Always include a note with an “FYI” as to what specifically the recipient should look at. Do them an additional favor by highlighting the specific text, if it’s easy to do so.
Using any of these suggestions will make the time spent working in distributed environments more productive!