Robert F. Abbott

Article Summary:

How to communicate effectively with offsite employees.

Communicating With Offsite Employees

How do you, or would you, communicate with employees who work offsite? Perhaps you have telecommuters reporting to you, or sales reps who work out of offices in other cities. How do you communicate with them?

Let’s start with the strategic issues: what do you want to accomplish by communicating with them? And, why would they want to communicate with you?

Strategic means you’ll probably want to deal with issues like productivity, accountability, and predictability. You want to know what the offsite employee does, how she does it, and what she will do in the future.

Still in the strategic vein, you’ll ask yourself why she would want to communicate with you: some reasons might include the need to maintain human contact with the office, to get resources from you, or to work on her productivity.

To return to our sales reps example, you might want them target the certain prospects or to focus on high-margin products, From the other side, you might ask them about their needs and discover they need to know about product availability and a competitor’s new products.

Once you have a clear, articulated understanding of why you’re communicating, you can move to the tactical issues. Issues such as: how often, what issues to raise, and by what means.

Normally, you’ll find the tactical matters tend resolve themselves if you do a good job on strategy. That is, the answers to tactical questions tend to flow out of the decisions made in setting up the strategy.

Using our offsite sales reps example, you might decide to send a group email once a week, and in it provide information the sales reps want. You’ll also add information that you want to convey to them, especially information about the benefits of targeting and margins.

In addition, you’ll also call each rep individually once a month to review his or her personal performance. In these calls, you’ll deal with their individual performance. You’ll also ask about their particular needs and wants, and try to satisfy those needs.

As well as developing strategies and tactics, you’ll also schedule some evaluations. Periodically, you’ll sit down and ask yourself how well the offsite people are targeting and what proportion of their sales come through high margin products.

If they’re doing well, you’ll stick to the course you set earlier. On the other hand, if performance doesn’t meet your standards, then you could look at increasing the number of contacts, and the duration of each contact. Maybe you need to bring everyone into the office once a quarter, while still maintaining your weekly group mailing and individual contacts monthly.

In summary, as the number of offsite employees and service providers increases, the pressure to develop plans to communicate with them will grow as well. To make the most of this communication, start with strategic issues that define why you want to be in contact with them, and why they would want to be in contact with you.

Robert F. Abbott offers three free chapters from his book, A Manager’s Guide to Newsletters: Communicating for Results. He also offers free subscriptions to Abbott’s Communication Letter, a free newsletter that helps you enhance your career through improved business communication.

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