Are long distance relationships really possible?
Do both parties start with enthusiasm and a commitment to communication, nothing will change, I promise you, we can keep the intensity, keep the flame burning, the passion alive, only to find that this secondment is really a relationship killer? The phone calls become dull and laboured, you can’t relate the conversations to what’s going on in your life every day, right now, and so the frequency dies off. As a manager, it’s such a relief to have someone seconded and fully utilised that you put their file away in a dust proof jacket for 6 months, rub your hands together and say, “Right, who’s next?”, or better still, “Who’s left?”
Can’t help myself – bad habits
When finally a market turns and the work begins to flow we all relax. You stop looking over your shoulder so much and the tension oozes out of the shoulders and neck. Then, dangerously, many of us adopt that famous Aussie attitude of “No worries mate, she’ll be right, don’t worry about it.” However, it’s a well-known fact (perhaps not often discussed) that the best market conditions, what I’d call a fat market, brings out some of the worst management practices. Our focus turns to the explosion of opportunity, and away from all of the things that were so relevant and so critical when the conditions were testing us. We begin to ignore all the things we really shouldn’t. And then it becomes one more slice of cheesecake, one more cigarette and I’ll ring them tomorrow – it’s only a day away – what damage could that possibly do?
Separation, it’s only a workstation away
When an employee takes a role temporarily away from their team or office, commonly referred to as a secondment, it’s not an opportunity to wipe your hands of your responsibilities as their manager. And it mightn’t be very far away either. In a corporate environment, an employee may move to another floor of a building or another end of the floor, but they quickly become detached from their team.
One thing is never in doubt – communication is the life line
This is an area where, as I reflect, I can confirm I have not done well and I suspect that many Line Managers could make a similar uncomfortable declaration of guilt. There are many effective ways to communicate across remote locations and of course they depend on the audience and the available technology. However, one thing is definitely not in question and that is the absolute need for and value in maintaining communication and this is from the perspective of both parties.
How can we communicate?
If you’re a people manager, keep in mind there mightn’t be much happening. There’s not a lot to talk about, the earth mightn’t be moving for you, but your lack of communication is more likely to be perceived as a lack of interest than a lack of content, so make the effort. Make time to take the time.
- Face to Face is of course the best and most effective communication. Given this, options such as video conference, Lync and Skype are available (low cost or free). The simple addition of a low cost webcam to your arsenal really humanises the conversation. At as low as $20AUD it’s a great investment, and for laptop users there is the built in camera technology. Share a coffee and a conversation.
- For voice to voice there is the telephone (the older among you will remember that technology), and technology like Microsoft Enterprise for chatting, and sharing screens, to talk through presentations, meeting minutes, etc.
I doubt that technology is typically the impediment to communication, I suspect it is more underestimating the importance of good communication and giving it the priority it deserves.
Schedule for success
It’s important to make a commitment to a regular catch up. A few simple agenda items are all that’s required. A short and succinct conversation regularly will keep the issues and opportunities current and will reduce the likelihood that the communications become a burden, ineffective and eventually something to de-prioritise.
You’re busy and the secondee is definitely busy, but take the time to keep, or create the personal connection.
- what’s going on?
- what’s news in their personal lives?
- share stories from their team; and
- invite a team member to sit in on the call to discuss a current project.
It’s a great idea to
- Get the secondee into team meetings, or staff meetings so they stay connected to their team if that’s logistically possible.
- Have them prepare short presentations/updates/lessons learnt on their project.
- Ensure the secondee is kept abreast of any policy or structural changes that may occur in the organisation in their absence.
- Keep the secondee on the team and other email distribution lists so they can watch what’s happening and encourage them to respond where appropriate with thoughts and ideas for the ongoing activities in the team.
What about when your secondee comes home?
There are a number of key points to consider in regards to the return of a secondee and these fit nicely in our discussion on the importance of communication.
When a secondee returns, it’s important to:
- Plan ahead and think about what they will be doing, what projects are on, what they can be involved in, what training they require, any reading they need to do to be up to speed.
- Have a debrief to work through any lessons learnt as a result of the secondment.
- Discuss any opportunities to build on relationships developed with the client or other department.
- Discuss any key changes in your team or the company that occurred during the period of the secondment.
Make sure secondees hit the ground running on their return. Recognise that after a long period of time they may be like a new employee, requiring a period of training and reorientation. This is critical. Neglecting to manage this is not only disengaging but it’s expensive for the business.
Secondments – the 30 second wrap
The key to managing secondments is communication. Maintaining a relationship with the secondee is crucial for keeping them engaged and for reintroducing them to their team when they return. There are many ways to communicate, face to face is best. Establish a plan that includes their team and other colleagues. Keep them posted with relevant business news and even social events.
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Many thanks to my nephew James Westmore for his wonderful artwork and to Rosie Broadfoot for her continued enthusiasm for editing my posts.