By Manpreet Singh, founder and president of TalkLocal.
Still, I recently started feeling like a guest in my own home after my business trips grew more routine. In-office interactions were substituted for lengthy emails. I used to call for cleanliness and best behavior when guests visited; suddenly, everyone started clearing their desk when I showed up. No longer the hands-on leader I wanted to be, I put a few tools in place to help me stay present in my team's work from across long distances. Here are the three practices I adopted to remain part of my company's workflow during periods of heavy travel.
Send Out a Weekly Agenda Email
I have a shared calendar, but few of my team members checked it, so most employees didn't know what I was up to while I was away. Left in the dark, they assumed the worst as I seemingly galavanted around, leaving them to pick up the slack.
Last winter, a few months into the partner-based strategy that turned me into an on-call globetrotter, I was already jetlagged and rushing to make numerous meetings when I received the fifth email inquiring about my whereabouts. I snapped, sending a curtly-worded mass email requesting that everyone check the shared calendar before "bugging me about my busy schedule." I winced at my knee-jerk reaction. There was no "undo" feature, so I sheepishly apologized and explained my sour mood.
It was then that an intern offered to email everyone my agenda each week. The solution was both practical and inspirational: It makes us mutually accountable, illustrates how I'm building upon everyone's contributions, sparks excitement about what's next for the company, and most importantly, reminds everyone that my team is out of sight, but not out of mind.
Use WhatsApp or Other SMS Messengers
My social media team has always underscored the need to take more pictures during industry events, giving them a way to promote the brand. I was already an avid Whatsapp user, and I'm not sure when it dawned on me that my team should have a Whatsapp group of its own, but it sure beats having to recount several meetings and critical introductions at the agenda meeting or worse, via email.
With Whatsapp, I can give my team members a glimpse of some of the tech industry's most prestigious and beautiful campuses, and brief them via text or a quick video between meetings. It's also an exercise in trust since so many of the meetings are under nondisclosure agreements, and the team makes every exchange more meaningful by responding with enthusiasm and words of encouragement.
I didn't realize what I'd been missing until I sent a photo on my way to that first meeting and instantly received comments like, "Go get 'em!" and "You got this!" Immediately after the meeting, I thanked them and shared how the confidence boost likely made a difference in winning over those decision makers. Celebrating our victories together in real time, no matter where we happen to be, has been a huge source of joy and unity for us.
Have Open Phone Line Minutes
No matter what collaborative tech enthusiasts may say, nothing beats direct verbal communication. Sometimes, I would find myself reading a three-paragraph-long Gchat message or email and engaging in a back-and-forth before finally calling the recipient to clarify. Unfortunately, my team never called me without my explicit invitation because they never knew when they might interrupt a meeting. The habit of messaging me became so engrained that I continued to get long emails, even though they sat only a few feet away from my office.
To re-establish direct conversation as the norm, I updated my Gchat with daily open phone line minutes. After three months of implementing this practice, about a third of the team has talked to me on the phone at least once, none of them send lengthy emails, and face-to-face dialogue mostly replaces messaging when I'm in office. Even those who didn't take advantage of my open phone times understood that I value personal communication, and that alone transformed behavior.
I do feel more connected to my team now than I did when I spent most of my days working by their side, taking them for granted. My absence forced us to come together in a more intentional way. The process of rising to the challenge enabled us to grow fonder of one another and ultimately more supportive than ever before.
Manpreet Singh is founder and president of TalkLocal, a home services marketplace that turns online service requests into a live conversation with the right available business in minutes.