How many times have you said to your team, "I sent out the information last week, any questions?" and assumed all was well - only to have that assumption come back to bite you later?
It might be because what you sent out was data rather than information.
What's the difference between data and information? It's more than just semantic (although I have been told I'm a hopeless semantic). It can make all the difference between taking action and inertia, and that can make or break your project, your team, or even your company. But using your webinar and videoconferencing tools more effectively can help turn data into something much more valuable.
Let me give you an example. You are dutifully asked to report each month on how many calls your sales team makes. That's data. It's a defined number. But how many of those calls turned into sales? How does that compare to the number of calls you made last month? Is that good news or bad news? Based on that, what are the next steps? That context - what the numbers (the raw data) means - is information. It's data assessed in relation to their work and activities.
Part of a manager's job - often a very frustrating part - is to help turn raw data into meaningful information. I hear managers say, "I've posted the latest P and L to SharePoint, it's there for them all to see." That's probably true, and if simply making data available was your job they wouldn't be paying you the big (ahem) bucks. But do you know if anyone has accessed it? If they have, do you know that they are interpreting it correctly? And are they taking appropriate action based on those numbers?
That's where good communication comes in. Actually sharing that information in a way that offers context, ensuring people have read it and can get their questions answered, then coaching and guiding next steps and action items, is part of your job.
For the way many of us operate today, these vital conversations need to be done through technology. It could be via email (not a very interactive method, but the data is shared efficiently enough). You can walk them through the numbers on the phone with each person following along, but do you really know if they get it or are they just being quiet?
Webinar, conferencing and screen sharing tools are a much better bet because everyone is seeing the same information at the same time and so the conversation is much richer. Visual learners can see what you're talking about. Sharing documents in real time allows for annotation, highlighting and comparisons that turn that data into richer, more useful information. You can assess people's understanding and buy-in with multiple interaction tools. More importantly, people get the chance to ask questions. So you can check assumptions about their level of understanding and acceptance.
When you can't get everyone on a meeting at the same time, I know several managers who will open a video conferencing session, record a brief explanation of the data and make that available to the team on demand. Then they follow up later to ensure that everyone has understood what's there. That's smart management that helps make that time well spent.
In short, taking the time and trouble to not just make data available but work together to understand what it means and what to do about it is one of the top challenges for remote team leaders. You need to take advantage of the tools at your disposal to help that happen.