What to do when your remote co-worker does not deliver

Modern work requires you to work with others. Whether you are working in a company, in a small business or as a freelancer, at the very least you have to work with your client, in most cases with more people. On top of that, we are usually working on different projects that involve different people in any given time period.

One of the biggest problems for remote workers is to get the attention of those collaborators when they need it. In presence situations, when someone becomes unresponsive or does not do a good enough job, we have a fail-safe back-up: When you work in the same office, you would simply walk over to your colleague and ask, why he has not answered you yet. If your client is in the same city, you call a meeting and sit down with him face-to-face.

One of the biggest problems for remote workers is to get the attention of their collaborators when they need it.

When this is not possible, we have to resort to other ways of getting our collaborators’ attention. Here are a few ways to get there:

Clarify how you want to work together at the beginning of your work together

A new project starts and the first meeting is dedicated to objectives, distribution of roles and building the timeline. Everyone feels like they have set themselves up for success until the project parameters change or other higher-priority work interferes with the timeline. Once the timeline is off, these teams have an incredibly hard time getting themselves organized again: extinguishing fires becomes the default mode of operation with no time to step-back and adapt the initial plan.

I have seen this pattern many times, and what I think is missing in these kick-off meetings, and in many teams, as they are starting off, are discussions about the expectations we have about each other with regards to communication and collaboration.

Key questions to exchange information about:

  • How to get the other’s attention? Agree on a way to get someone attention, e.g. “URGENT” in the subject line; and under which circumstances it is appropriate to use this.
  • What is the best way to reach the person? What are alternative ways?
  • What is an acceptable wait time before I should follow up or put on more pressure?

Connect on more than one channel

Varying the way we communicate with people can help a lot in getting their attention when you need it. Even though a client of mine might have told me that he is best reached by email, he does not reply to a crucial request I sent him. Without his answer, I cannot continue. I do know that he is also on WhatsApp, so I shoot him a message to ask if he has seen my email and alert him that I depend on his answer.

Key Questions:

  • What other communication channels can my colleagues or clients be reached on?
  • What other communication channels can my colleagues or clients be reached on?
  • Where does she/he hang out most?
  • Which of these are most invasive and are likely going to get more attention

Connect with people, who are connected with them

For most organizations, the old saying is still true that the most important person to have a good relationship with is the assistant of the CEO. If you know people who have a close connection to the person you need an answer from, then you have alternative ways of reaching the person.

Key questions:

  • Who has daily interactions with this person?Who is close to the person? Someone the person listens to no matter what?
  • Who is close to the person? Someone the person listens to no matter what?Who has influence over this person’s schedule?
  • Who has influence over this person’s schedule?Understand their situation

Understand their situation

Working remotely often means working across time zones and some of your co-workers might be in countries in which vacation rules differ, holidays and religious feasts might be different and even weekends might not fall on the same days as in your country (e.g. most

Working remotely often means working across time zones and some of your co-workers might be in countries in which vacation rules differ, holidays and religious feasts might be different and even weekends might not fall on the same days as in your country (e.g. most Muslim countries work from Sunday to Thursday, some even from Saturday to Wednesday).

Also, your colleague or client will likely have more than one project on their hands. Understanding their workload, and what their part in your project is in relation to their other work, helps us have realistic expectations about their contributions.

Key questions:

  • What are the rules and customs (including holidays, work week) where my coworker is located?
  • What are the hours she/he works normally?
  • How many projects does she/he work on and how much of her/ his time is dedicated to my project?

Build a personal relationship

All of these tips boil down to one piece of advice: get to know your co-workers. Connect with them on a more personal level than just talking about milestones, tasks, and deadlines. Personal relationships are about more than just feeling good, they are the basis for trust, which is essential for high performance.

Get to know their context, and challenges. Find out what they like or dislike. In addition to appreciating what they can contribute, you will be able to adapt your work style to their needs, which they will honor with dedication to your project.

Getting to know your colleagues also goes beyond information about their work. They could, for example, have a new-born at home and not sleep well, and, therefore, might be quite irritable at work.

Key questions:

  • How can I get to know my colleagues more?What is going on in their lives outside of work?
  • What is going on in their lives outside of work?What do they like and dislike?
  • What do they like and dislike?All of these tips boil down to one piece of advice: get to know your co-workers.

All of these tips boil down to one piece of advice: get to know your co-workers.


An earlier version of this article appeared in the Medium publication Thriving Remotely.

Foto source: By wgbieber on pixabay.com

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