Telecommuting and other remote work arrangements have evolved from workplace novelty to the new normal. Over the past two decades, the volume of employers offering telecommuting benefits has tripled from 20 to 60 percent, and other research speculates that almost all companies will offer “mobile workstyles” by 2020.
Operating out of your home office or nearby coffee shop eliminates plenty of traditional workplace nuisances -- be it the rush hour traffic, stolen lunches or frigid air conditioning. That said, working remotely doesn’t absolve us from the occasional need to have difficult conversations with our supervisors.
Even for employees who work a cubicle away from their manager, there is no easy way to broach the subject of raises, conflict with a colleague and personal matters that require adjustments to your schedule. Adding thousands of miles -- not to mention a gamut of collaboration technologies -- into the mix can exacerbate the awkwardness of these discussions.
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Ironically, the simplest rule of thumb for remote workers bracing for a tough conversation may be to think like an office-bound employee. Consider these three specific ways to make tricky chats significantly less daunting for everyone involved:
1. Don’t throw any curveballs.
If you worked out of a corporate office, chances are you wouldn’t casually pop your head into a manager’s doorway asking why another team member received a promotion over you. In that vein, Skype chat, Google Hangouts and other informal communication channels are not the best place to tell your boss (on a whim) why you deserve a raise.
To avoid catching anyone by surprise (and to let both sides prepare accordingly), give your manager advanced notice that you’d like to carve out time for a conversation. You’ll also want to provide context ahead of time to frame the discussion, whether it’s about your performance or a personal issue. The key here is balance: leaving a five-minute voicemail explaining what you hope to discuss and why defeats the purpose of scheduling a meeting in the first place.
Related: How to Ask for a Raise -- and Get It
2. Let the message inform your medium.
Just because Slack is where you go to get approval on new client projects and swap Game of Thrones theories, it doesn’t mean it’s the right forum for requesting performance feedback. For serious or personal conversations, face-to-face meetings are always ideal, as they make it easier for participants to read each other’s body language and more clearly demonstrate empathy.
But when arranging a time to talk in-person is out of the question, video conferencing is the next best option. Tough discussions become harder to navigate in one- and two-dimensional channels (including instant messaging, email and audio calls). The live, “3-D” nature of video communication helps prevent emotions and important information from being lost in translation.
3. Always follow up.
By treating difficult manager conversations as inevitable instances on the work-life continuum rather than singular, negative events, the less awkward they’ll become (regardless of your work location). To proactively clear the air and eliminate lingering tension after a hard talk, make sure to follow up with your manager before your next regularly scheduled meeting.
This doesn’t need to be another formal video conference, but instead a quick check-in note or call via whichever medium your supervisor is most responsive. An email or private chat that expresses your appreciation for their input, and recaps next steps on your part, sets a positive tone going forward.