What are some challenges remote teams face in communicating effectively?
I find that one of the biggest types of communication challenges is around people understanding, because in-person communication has a whole additional level of depth and subtlety to it, versus phone or text or email communication.
So one thing I would recommend that a manager do when communicating with their teams is try to leverage video as much as possible. I think the communication’s a lot better if you hop on a video chat using any of the different video services, even FaceTime or Skype or things like that, because you get a lot more of the context in terms of how people are actually reacting to the the things that you’re saying, whether they’re really understanding it, because so much context is lost through text and email communication.
Along with improving the type of communication you’re using with your field team, it’s also important that expectations don’t fall through the cracks. Because the communication is more difficult, it’s sometimes hard for reps to understand what their key priorities are.
So in addition to using a lot of video communication and things like that, the other thing that I recommend is having a list of priorities and goals for each of your reps in a document and actually refer back to that regularly, whether it’s in your weekly or monthly one-on-ones with each rep.
What can field marketing reps do to keep their managers up-to-date on what's happening in the field?
It’s important that reps are giving good information back to managers about their challenges, what they need help with, what’s actually going on out in the field. Obviously one great way to do that is to use a mobile app so that all the information about your visits and all the work you’re doing in the field is going back to your manager and is going back to them in a way that’s easy to understand and to process.
In addition to that, I think it’s important that you not be afraid to talk to your manager. Maybe initiate video chats with your manager; text, email, other types of communication as well, and make sure you’re giving your manager a good view of what’s happening in the field. I’d say if you go more than a couple days without talking to your manager, it means you probably should be thinking about what you could’ve communicated about - something you’ve seen in the past couple of days or something you’ve done in the past couple of days.
You’ve got to remember that managers are trying to have a good idea about what’s going on in the field, but it’s hard for them because there’s a lot of different reps they need to manage and they don’t have an opportunity to get out in the field as often as the reps do. So the more information you can give back to them about what’s actually going on, what’s working well and not working well, is actually really valuable to them as somebody in the business.
What can managers do to help build a positive and productive culture in their remote teams?
The first thing is, I would try to find a way to get the reps together in one place to spend some time with each other. I think that that’s important. Maybe it’s on a quarterly basis, maybe it’s on an annual basis, maybe it’s after hitting certain sales goals or sales milestones - but I would figure out a way to actually add an in-person component to the team.
After having met in-person stuff, there’s a few ways that you can take some of those relationships that have started to form and continue them on in a more virtual way.
I would encourage you to have friendly competitions that are not only just individual-based, but maybe team-based as well. I've seen a lot of success with sales teams maybe pairing two reps up with a combined goal for each of those teams of two reps competing with each other. That way, it’s not sort of everyone against all the other reps, but actually forming teams and changing those teams regularly - giving different reps a chance to get to know one another.
What steps can reps take to improve their team culture?
I would encourage individual reps to build relationships with other people within your region or broader area within your company. And I would maybe set times, maybe it’s every other week for thirty minutes, and do a call with one other person and get some tips from them. I think that I've always learned a lot in my career from my peers.
My recommendation would be to form some sort of peer group, maybe it’s a couple people dialing into one conference call number or maybe it’s one-to-one relationships where you just try to trade some tips and learn from each other. I think that can be a great way for a field team to get to know each other and sort of get better leverage of the knowledge that’s out there with the field team.
How can teams use digital communication tools to help build culture?
In years past, it was hard to build a good culture among a field team because so much of our relationships are based on in-person get-togethers. But now, so much of our relationship-building and communication shifted to digital forms, mostly on mobile devices now, that I think there’s a lot of ways you can sort of build and stimulate a culture using that.
So I would encourage, as a manager, and I would, as a rep, take the initiative, to do a lot of informal communication - whether it’s leaving comments and things like that on other people, or responding-all to emails about “Great job on that account!”, or things like that.
I would encourage people to be human in their communication and not worry too much about being too corporate and instead take the informal communication that you’re using in your natural life and bring that into the business world a little bit. I think that the same people that you’re texting with on the weekend are likely to be the types of people that you’re also working with, and so I wouldn't be afraid to sort of keep that informal level of communication, that frequent sort of small check-ins, and use that as part of the culture of your field team.