Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 6;   February 10, 2021: Remote Hires: Communications

Remote Hires: Communications


When knowledge-oriented organizations hire remote workers, success is limited by the communications facilities they provide. Remote hires need phones, computers, email, text, video, calendars, and more. Communications infrastructure drives productivity.
Working remotely, in this case, from home

Working remotely, in this case, from home

For some time to come, the Coronavirus pandemic will continue compelling organizations to hire people remotely. For many, every stage of the hiring process happens through Zoom, MS Teams, Webex, or any of the alternatives. And when candidates become employees, instead of checking in at the Human Resources office on the morning of Day One, the virtual format continues. Remote hires probably won't see the inside of the building the organization occupies, or meet anyone face-to-face. Not on Day One. Maybe not even before Day 100. It's all virtual, and all will be virtual for months yet.

This situation can create a severe hindrance for knowledge-oriented organizations — organizations that produce products or services that have much knowledge content or which require mostly knowledge work. Collaborations of knowledge workers require effective communication between individuals and groups. When collaborators cannot interact face-to-face, the effectiveness of the communication infrastructure limits productivity. And those limits are perhaps most clearly revealed when a remote hire joins the team.

The Worldwide Web provides a wealth of advice for new hires and the people who hire them. Not so much for new remote hires. To help fill the gap, I offer this first installment of a little collection of suggestions for remote hires and their supervisors.

Communications issues Communications issues are the issues
most likely to cause problems on Day
One or the days immediately following
the addition of a remote hire
are the issues most likely to cause problems on Day One or the days immediately following the addition of a remote hire. For that reason, I begin this collection with a focus on communications. Two perspectives — remote hire and supervisor — provide a framework for generating suggestions. You'll notice by comparing the two sets of suggestions below that both remote hire and supervisor must address some of the same issues. And because of the inherent differences in their roles, they have different sets of options for dealing with the issues that can arise.

The first section below is addressed to remote hires; the second to their supervisors.

Communications guidelines for remote hires

Unlike the analogous face-to-face situation for nonremote hires, communication technology is essential for remote hires. Except for special situations, as a remote hire, every contact you make, from your first day until work-from-home (WFH) ends, will be through text, email, telephone, videoconference, messaging apps, or digital collaboration environments. It's essential that you have access to whatever technologies are required to facilitate communications. Here are four tips for doing that.

Don't wait until Day One
You won't be able to do much in a modern organization unless you have your devices all working right. Find someone, anyone, to ask about a phone, a computer, software, and any accounts you'll need. In some organizations, setting up equipment and accounts takes time. Take the initiative. Ask about these matters right after your acceptance of the job offer has been acknowledged and accepted.
Get your device(s) working
The critical elements right away are anything related to access and communications on all relevant devices. A checklist is below. Some of these items might not apply to you in your situation, and you might have some that don't appear.
  • Make and receive telephone calls
  • Send and receive email and text
  • Read and write files on all relevant file servers
  • Attend and host video conferences
  • Read and write documents for all relevant applications
  • Contribute to and initiate conversations in all digital collaboration environments
  • Enter an event in your calendar
  • View the calendars of anyone whose calendar you need to view
Have a separate phone number for work
Avoid publishing any of your personal phone numbers. The pandemic will end someday, WFH will end, and work-from-office will resume. At that point you'll be happy that people no longer call your personal phone. If the organization doesn't provide you with a cell phone or softphone, they'll assign an internal phone to you. Learn how to forward that phone to your personal phone for the duration of WFH.
If your employer doesn't provide you with a landline or cell phone or soft phone, a wise alternative is securing a cell phone yourself, just for work. If you don't want to carry two phones around, forward your personal phone to the work phone (or vice versa). When you move on to another position, either with your current employer or another, you can easily change that number.
Learn your employer's phone system
Learn how to pick up voicemail, how to send voicemail, how to conference, and how to toggle "do not disturb." Most important: find the organizational phone directory.

Communications guidelines for supervisors of remote hires

Communications arrangements are especially important for remote hires. Finding your way as a remote hire is different from finding your way as an in-person hire. Remote hires can't ask for help from their office neighbors or from anyone they see passing by, because they don't have office neighbors and they don't actually see anyone passing by.

As the supervisor of a new remote hire, the fundamental goal is to integrate him or her into the organization. Unless the job of the remote hire involves managing or redesigning the onboarding process, it's counterproductive to compel remote hires to figure out for themselves how to get what they need to begin work. Ensuring that remote hires have what they need to begin work rapidly and easily is the supervisor's responsibility.

Here are suggestions for providing communications infrastructure to remote hires. In what follows, I'll use the name Rhett for the remote hire.

Prepare an equipment package
Remote hires at any level need phones, computers, accounts, and software. And often, these things take time to arrange. At least two weeks in advance, ask the cognizant administrative assistant to requisition the appropriate equipment, software, and accounts, and arrange for it all to be configured appropriately. In Hour One of Day One, the items in question should be in working order. Any equipment Rhett needs should have been delivered to his address by then.
If the organization is in temporary work-from-home (WFH) status because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and if Rhett wouldn't ordinarily qualify for a cellphone or softphone, provide one on a temporary basis for the duration of WFH. If this isn't possible, then Rhett will need to use his personal phone, which would require him to reveal to co-workers his personal phone number. In some instances, privacy issues can arise, and worse, this use of Rhett's personal phone can lead to charges on Rhett's personal phone bill. And if people call Rhett on his personal phone after hours, or abuse their access to him for any reason, trouble looms. Best to make arrangements that avoid revealing Rhett's personal phone number.
Provide a document that contains all needed information
The most important information is anything related to getting help with communications: help-related URLs, email addresses, phone numbers, and names of people who can resolve any communications issues.
Be sure to inform in advance anyone whose contact information appears in the information document. Tell these people about Rhett, and request that they help resolve with high priority any issues that arise.
Arrange a light schedule for Day One
Don't expect to pack Rhett's first day with back-to-back meetings. Leave time for resolving any unexpected hitches that might develop. Maybe keep Day Two light as well.
And since you're Rhett's supervisor, you're responsible for a smooth transition. If any issues arise, you might need to help resolve them, or connect Rhett with someone who can. For Rhett's first day or two, keep some time free to deal with whatever comes. Make your own schedule a little lighter than usual.

Last words

For remote hires: If you notice something about the process of "onboarding" that could have been improved, make notes, but don't offer your observations unless specifically invited to do so. Save the information for a time when you're more familiar with the organization and when its people know you better.

For supervisors: Work with other supervisors to exchange information about whatever procedures they've developed for welcoming new remote hires. There is little benefit in re-inventing something that works, or repeating something that doesn't.

For remote hires at the top of the organization: you probably know what to do — rely on staff and assistants. Because they might not be aware of the special communication challenges of remote organizational leaders, devote a conversation to the topic and develop a plan that addresses the risks you can anticipate.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Remote Hires: Inquiry  Next Issue

Leading Virtual Meetings for Real ResultsAre your virtual meetings plagued by inattentiveness, interruptions, absenteeism, and a seemingly endless need to repeat what somebody just said? Do you have trouble finding a time when everyone can meet? Do people seem disengaged and apathetic? Or do you have violent clashes and a plague of virtual bullying? Read Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results to learn how to make virtual meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot shorter. Order Now!

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Three gears in a configuration that's inherently locked upComing April 24: Antipatterns for Time-Constrained Communication: 1
Knowing how to recognize just a few patterns that can lead to miscommunication can be helpful in reducing the incidence of problems. Here is Part 1 of a collection of communication antipatterns that arise in technical communication under time pressure. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
A dangerous curve in an icy roadAnd on May 1: Antipatterns for Time-Constrained Communication: 2
Recognizing just a few patterns that can lead to miscommunication can reduce the incidence of problems. Here is Part 2 of a collection of antipatterns that arise in technical communication under time pressure, emphasizing those that depend on content. Available here and by RSS on May 1.

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