Video Chat A Must-Have Tool For Remote Managers

faceless manYesterday I came across a remote managers discussion thread.  One person new to remote managing was having trouble working with “faceless” remote clients.  Several respondents were rather unsympathetic to his problem, insisting that the loss of facetime shouldn’t affect his ability to influence and build rapport with his clients.

Maybe the nature of their jobs made face-to-face meetings unnecessary for them or maybe they’ve simply been working with the same people for years. But, virtual team studies have shown that face-to-face meetings are crucial for building team trust, especially in the beginning.  While virtual teams can be just as strong as face-to-face teams, it usually takes them more time (which they might not have) to learn to work together effectively.

It turns out, this remote manager wasn’t the only one who missed the interaction of face-to-face.  CEO Rae Hoffman-Dolan is just one of many managers who puts Skype video chats at the top of her list of “6 Must Have Tools For Managing Virtual Employees.”  Furthermore, a Microsoft Flexible Working report found that about half of their managers had issues with their “inability to talk face-to-face” with telecommuters.  (This was by far the most popular complaint, with “lack of focus” being mentioned by only 26% of managers.)

As a remote worker, I have to say the immediacy of “seeing” someone, makes a huge difference in communication and relationship-building. It really hit me on one occasion when a coworker IM-ed me to do something for her.  I more or less ignored the text at the time, shoving it onto my mental to-do list.  Fifteen minutes later she VSee-ed me to talk about the request. That video call made all the difference in making me remember and prioritize her request. Without seeing and talking with her face-to-face, I know I would have either forgotten what she wanted me to do or not gotten around to it until days later.  It isn’t that text communications don’t work, but rather they delay work that could be done more quickly because they usually make less of an impact and require more time to follow up and receive feedback.

As for relationship-building, it’s difficult to quantify, but especially for isolate remote workers like myself, seeing faces allows us to work more like human beings. Talking with people over VSee lets me feel like I’m not just talking with machines or a name on the screen, but with real people who have lives and personalities. It quickly clears up misconceptions that I sometimes build up about other people’s personalities or what they meant in an email. It keeps me engaged during a presentation or group discussion. It also makes me feel more productive and more connected to the group.

So just because you’re able to get by without “seeing” the people you work with doesn’t mean seeing faces doesn’t matter. It could just mean you’re missing out on the extra benefits of seeing face.

How important do you think video chat is for remote managers?

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photo credit: adapted from HaPe_Gera via Flickr