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Managing Remote Workers – Five Minutes Can Make A World of Change

August 12, 2014 by

A guest blog post from employee engagement specialist, David Zinger.

Via Fuze, I recently sat down with Rosa Say, a dear friend I’ve known for many years through blogging. She developed a proven employee engagement strategy called the Daily 5 Minutes. When combined with visual communication tools like Fuze, the Daily 5 Minutes can be a very effective engagement practice for the increasing number of people managing remote workers and teams.

David - Before we jump in, can you say a few words about your background?

Rosa - I founded Say Leadership Coaching around a management philosophy called Managing with Aloha, wherein I teach and coach managers to work with their teams and employees based on their value set. In Hawaii, Aloha is really the “root stock” of all the values within our local culture here and so that’s why the philosophy is called Managing with Aloha, i.e. “managing aligned with the values of Aloha.” My work coaching managers and teams consistently includes thoughtful conversation within our digitally connected and mobile world. You may think of conversation as something very basic, but conversation skills have become increasingly important.

David - One of the terms you use a lot is “talking story.” For those not familiar, what does that mean?

Rosa - “Talking story” is a phrase commonly used throughout Hawaii. It means to have a conversation with someone that is mostly off the cuff, open and casual. It’s making sure you give someone your whole story, so they understand where you’re coming from. It’s also having patience to listen to what their story is connected to and whatever happens to be going on with them. Unless you have these conversations with some frequency or know each other well, it can make conversations a little longer sometimes. Once the backstory is established, conversations end up being a continuation.

David - How does this relate to the business environment?

Rosa - Managers and employees often have a very different perception of their interactions together. For example, when I ask managers: “How often to you talk to your staff?” The response is typically: “Oh every day, we talk constantly about all kind of things.” However, when I pose the question to employees about how often they talk with their manager, the answer is remarkably different. Employees typically respond: “You mean like an annual review?” When I say: “no, just a conversation,” they typically say something like: “Umm, about what? Why? What happened?”

The difference is remarkable. They’re not accustomed to having frequent, ongoing, open conversations and when they really want to talk to their manager about something there’s this little dance going on -- “Are they going to be a good mood? Is this a good time? Should I wait and do it later?” The Daily 5 Minutes is meant to be a way to cut through any hesitation by creating a new circle of comfort between a manager and employee.

David - How does it work?

Rosa - It is a simple habit. Each day, without fail, managers give five minutes of “no agenda” time to at least one of their employees. They’d log the event on a simple checklist of names to ensure they didn’t miss anyone and they’d speak to each employee in turn on a regular basis.

David - So you’re really looking at making this into a practice and a strong way of connection, but bounding it up by saying that this can be done in five minutes.

Rosa - Yes, exactly. It has to be looked at as an expected program of person-to-person interaction and there’s a language that is connected to it. That’s why we call it Daily 5 Minutes (D5M) for short. A manager will open the conversation with someone saying “Hey can you take five right now?” And that gets the ball rolling. Employees learn that they can use this time effectively by being ready with something to discuss.

Rosay Say fuze blog Daily 5 mins

David - Could you give an example of the question that a manager would use to begin that kind of conversation?

Rosa -  The key to the Daily 5 Minutes is that the manager has no agenda. The purpose is to listen and assure an employee that they are being heard. Employees drive the agenda. A manager might start off saying, “Is this a good time for you? Can you take five?” And an employee would say, “Yes, I’ve got time right now. I’ve been wanting to talk to you about…” And they go right into it. They can talk about whatever is on their mind and the manager is there to listen. After a few minutes, the conversation may end with the manager saying something like: “Thanks for bringing that up. I wasn’t aware that was going on, so let me mull it over and talk to a few people and we’ll get back and have another conversation about this.”

We like to call it a gift, because you’re giving them the gift of your time and willingness to really listen to whatever they want to talk about. As this becomes routine, employees will learn to come prepared with something to cover. As a manager, your preparation is to ensure you’re ready and willing to be a good listener and open to whatever they choose to talk about.

David - This is probably most effective in person, but we increasingly work in different locations from our managers and peers. By 2015 about 1.3 billion people worldwide will be working remotely. That’s almost 40% of the entire global workforce. Managers are now asked to frequently lead people they seldom see. Can the Daily 5 Minutes be done virtually?

Rosa - Yes, absolutely. In these situations, the Daily 5 Minutes conversations may get tagged onto other planned conversations, either at the beginning or end. A conference call is scheduled; someone’s early and so they send a quick text to another person whom they know is included in that conference call and say, “Okay I’m just sitting around waiting for this, are you ready too? You want to take five before it starts?” Because both people know what “take five” means, that person has initiated it, and boom -- the Daily 5 Minutes kick in to nicely fill that waiting time void.

A lot of clients I have will do the Daily 5 Minutes virtually because their staff travels, works or lives in different cities and time zones: It’s usually an addition to whatever else they’re doing virtually. But they expect to make time for it occasionally, and they initiate it when best for them to create habits. Tools like Fuze can help in those interactions.

David - As you know my passion is engagement and how people connect to their organizations, their work and connect to each other. I think the Daily 5 Minutes gives a very business manager a structure and an intention to make sure that those connections are ongoing and enduring rather than just temporary or fleeting along the way. Any other suggestions or advice you would have for a manager who primarily manages virtual employees?

Rosa - Like many things, the Daily 5 Minutes gets easier and more effective with time. For those who have never done it before, I tell them to be prepared to “clear the decks” a bit in the beginning, especially for people who you don’t have regular conversation with. However when the D5M becomes part of the way you manage and everyone knows it, the conversations happen on a frequent basis and conversations become easier and more natural.

You can spread the conversations out and have one per day, so it is not overwhelming. For example, if you have seven employees, they might get a Daily 5 Minutes conversation from you once every other week. Over time, managers tell me, “I initially fought you on this because it took me more time. But now, oh my goodness, my employees are so efficient. They have learned how to take care of issues in five-minute bites. Nothing festers, nothing is swept under the rug, it’s all out in the open. I don’t have to do any mind reading anymore and we’ve gotten so efficient at this.”

So that’s what I would say to look forward to. You’re going to make an investment in the front end, but over time it is going to be so efficient for you and connected to your virtual work. With many people that I know of in my own customer base, virtual helps cuts it down to even less than five minutes, because they’re so good now with preparing thoughtful, self-edited agendas. They prep each other with emails and other texts to set the stage for the conversation to come. They’re very good at scheduling time because of time zone differences. Most of my virtual practitioners are some of the most effective in terms of D5M.

David - I am so excited to help share this concept. I know there’s a lot of depth.  It is a simple practice that empowers each manager to help create a broader company culture. Any final words?

Rosa - Just thank you so much for introducing more people to this and helping me keep this practice going. My coaching business has other practices within its tool kit, but the Daily 5 Minutes is by far the most effective. I ask managers to try to learn better conversational skills for their own good. I so greatly appreciate that you’ve helped me spread the word David, so thank you.

David - Thank you for giving us that gift. And I mean that with utmost sincerity. I think so many people are pressured and feel like they’re trying to do so much for so little. Yet, everyone can take five minutes and you demonstrate what a difference that could make. Thanks so much Rosa.

Rosa Say Fuze Blog signature

Interested in more about managing remote workers and teams? Join our free webinar on Aug. 13, 2014 led by David Zinger. Find more information here.

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