28

Someone has joined my team recently to run social, community, user research, etc. They have done this in the past for their family business and are very good with it.

But they seem to be quite clueless about communication and coordination in a team (especially remote) context. They are quite young and never worked outside their family in the past. Their social skills of late teens might also have been hampered due to Covid.

They get started on things that we spoke about but never actually discussed what methods should be followed and what the deliverables are (so the risk is something will need to be redone). I am not sure they understand the concept of procedures (conduct the user research based on some guidelines), standard requirements (check a certain set of things during user interviews), deliverables, etc.

They disappear for many days without reporting back - and later it turned out they were working on the thing they thought they were supposed to be working on. And they came back with a nice report which was half useless but which they spent good effort on.

I guess that while working with one's own family on a small business, everyone has a general idea of what everyone else is up to and there's a lot of leeway on what/how things are done. But doesn't at all translate to a remote team. A few times I wasn't even sure if they were still working with us or had simply decided to stop and never bothered to tell me.

What is a good way to train this individual on how to work as a team with well-meaning people but who are 1) remote and 2) not family. Though smart and capable, they are young, impulsive and impressionable. I have mostly worked in professional settings, so advice how to handle and keep this person on board and make them more productive will be nice. I also need them to retain their open mindedness and creativity, because it is very useful. It just needs to be channeled. How do I achieve that?

Notes (based on the comments) -

  1. Yes, this person works directly for me, but everyone who works for me does so fairly autonomously with loose supervision.

  2. This person is not doing this full time but along with school. So sometimes when they have exams, they are expected to disappear and focus on school.

  3. This is a very small operation (without a full-time HR), so there's a bit of informality and not many SOPs. Since almost everyone is an experienced professional on a profit-sharing arrangement, this set up works/worked fine.

10
  • 4
    Are you their manager/the person appointed to train them or simply a colleague?
    – AsheraH
    Mar 31, 2022 at 4:36
  • 30
    For one thing- don't let them go off for several days and not know what they're doing. This is a very early career employee. You should be keeping track of their status daily, and/or making sure they have a well defined backlog of things to work on that they can move on. If they go more than a day without contact, you're not following up on them sufficiently. Mar 31, 2022 at 6:04
  • 1
    @AsheraH they work for me, but pretty much everyone on the team works more or less independently.
    – ahron
    Mar 31, 2022 at 6:36
  • 2
    @GabeSechan You are quite right. What I had omitted to mention (and have now updated in the question) is they are doing this alongside their studies. So when they have exams and such, we already know and expect them to go away and focus on that. I can't reasonably expect to keep track of peoples' exam schedules any more lol.
    – ahron
    Mar 31, 2022 at 6:49
  • 1
    @BernhardDöbler Yeah, doing that now. Apparently they had exams but forgot to tell me. We'll set up some guidelines and frameworks to communicate and work in a team etc.
    – ahron
    Apr 1, 2022 at 5:24

7 Answers 7

40

I have onboarded dozens of employees in their early 20's to my team for internships and permanent positions over the years and I've found (based on experiences similar to yours) that it helps to provide them on the first day a list of five General Expectations. I send this list to them digitally and usually print it on paper too. I let them know that some of these expectations may taper off over time, but that this is where we start.

The short version of the expectations are:

  1. Check in with me daily. Even just for a few minutes.
  2. Have a standard work day. We can negotiate when your hours start and end, but as a rule they need to be consistent.
  3. Ask for Help...but after you've tried to figure it out yourself.
  4. Be findable. If you're going to be away from your desk/Slack/Teams for a long time, make sure I know where you are.
  5. Read email regularly. Email is a part of the professional world and while it can be helpful to turn it off and focus for a while, at least check it at the start, middle, and end of the day.

From what you describe, expectations 1, 4, and 5 would all help with this new employee of yours. #1 will help with making sure they don't go off with a misunderstanding of what they are supposed to be doing for too long. #4 and #5 will make sure the disappearing stops.

9
  • If they are a student, each weekday might need to be different. But a calendar can show that. Mar 31, 2022 at 15:28
  • Yeah, with the right modifications, this is going to be very helpful. Thanks.
    – ahron
    Mar 31, 2022 at 16:24
  • 6
    I personally dont like item 4. Just too controlling
    – JonH
    Apr 1, 2022 at 21:57
  • 7
    While that may work (or be necessary) for some employers, I don't agree with consistent work hours as a universal rule. Some people are much happier and more productive when they can shift their work hours a bit from one day to the next. Many employers have had enough success by having "core hours" during which everyone needs to be there (which are typically around 4-6 hours in my experience), and allowing employees to freely move around their hours outside of that.
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 2, 2022 at 3:35
  • 1
    @JonH - it can be important to let the team know of your status if you are likely to be away for a time, especially if remote. We do this informally with an out-of-office message or a post to relevant Teams chats. Something like “away from desk, back around 1330” is fine, you don't need to be precise or give reasons, but it means anyone who needs to talk to you about their work or yours isn't left unknowing. A balance can be found between feeling controlled and being considerate to the rest of the team, where that balance is best placed will vary by team. Apr 3, 2022 at 11:37
57

If you are the manager or at least tasked to onboard that colleague, schedule short daily stand-up meetings. They don't need to be long, and if the colleague improves in self-management, you can decrease the frequency of the meetings.

In those stand-up meetings, you ask the colleague what they have planned to do today. Correct incorrect priorities. Once you have an agreement what has to be done, go over the workflow. Don't micromanage. Check if there are misunderstandings in the requirements or in the process. If you see a problem in the way the colleague wants to tackle a task, ask open ended questions: "Will your approach work in case xyz?". Don't just provide the "solution".

Estimate the time for the task, check back in the next meeting if the estimate was correct. If it took longer / shorter, analyze why. With that the colleague (and you) get better in estimation.

A new colleague, regardless how old or experienced should never go more days without contact with their manager. You already identified that the workflow in the former company was fundamentally different, so you need to provide a lot of guidance. Be patient, never belittle, never talk bad about inexperience. See yourself as a good friend who wants the colleague to succeed.

2
  • 4
    Best advice. Daily meetings. Don't assume they'll just "get it" out of thin air. Explain, demonstrate, guide, and empower.
    – Xavier J
    Mar 31, 2022 at 19:17
  • 8
    "Will your approach work" isn't particularly open-ended (it's a yes/no question), and it's quite leading. I'd rather opt for "How will your approach deal with / what if case XYZ".
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 31, 2022 at 22:39
9

everyone who works for me does so fairly autonomously with loose supervision.

This is your problem. Manage them, train them. If you have procedures, give them to the employee to follow. And most importantly stay in the loop until they have settled into a professional routine where you can back off secure in the knowledge the work will be done properly.

You can't channel anything by doing nothing. You need to give guidance.

2
  • Yeah, you are right I have to do that. I never wanted to do this stuff so I almost exclusively preferred experienced people. But this kid was good, so I guess I have to train myself to train them.
    – ahron
    Mar 31, 2022 at 16:23
  • Young (and by that I really mean inexperienced) people really need more hand holding. It can be frustrating, especially if you didn't have any say in whether or not they were hired, but without experienced people passing on that experience, no one has any. It's the price we pay for productive employees!!
    – corsiKa
    Mar 31, 2022 at 22:46
8

Whilst it is important to help this person navigate the world of work, it is also important to set boundaries; don't assume they automatically know what is acceptable and unacceptable.

For example, you mention the person 'disappearing' for many days; is this acceptable? If not, how did you inform them of that? In many companies it would trigger disciplinary action; your company is more relaxed than that, but if you don't make your attitude to this behaviour clear, then it will keep on happening until you are forced to take drastic action, which will be very damaging for everyone concerned.

2

Daily standup or scrum meetings are essential to keep everyone on the loop and help eliminate barriers.

Otherwise, you can implement/improve internal communication channels via Slack, Skype, Teams, Telegram or whatever technology you're comfortable with, they are essential for teams working remotely. Encourage everyone to post daily updates, share they questions, thoughts, random topics... It helps new hires being on the same page as other senior employees.

1

You mention 1) That this person is very young and 2) That this person is working remotely. This is not a good combination. Without a cohesive team, it is difficult to know when something is going wrong, and with someone young (and therefore, likely, inexperienced), the risk of something going wrong is higher.

Additionally, there are people, and it seems this person is one, who prefer to fill in gaps themselves rather than ask for help; they assume they know things and just go with what they know, without considering that their understanding may be wrong and they should ask for clarification. This is a personality type that needs to be managed, and not a defect that needs to be corrected. The hard part is, when you have no visibility, both due to the remote nature of the work and also the lack of availability of the person, you run into a lot of wasted time and effort.

It seems like this person is not wasting time or slacking off; they deliver what they believe they are asked to deliver, on the schedule on which they are asked to deliver it. This is not a productivity problem, it's a communication problem. So that's where you need to solve the problem.

To solve the communication problem, particularly for a remote team, you need to schedule more meetings. Meetings suck and nobody likes them, but for a remote team, when you can't have quick huddles as necessary, you need to have more meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. You should schedule a daily standup to make sure everyone understands what they're doing and so that you understand what everyone is doing, as the team leader. If you've never run a daily standup meeting, the basic idea is that everyone describes what they're working on, what they did the previous day in concrete terms, and what they plan to do today, in concrete terms. This will allow you to correct whatever misunderstandings arise in terms of processes as soon as they appear.

Given that you have already observed a concrete problem with this person's work, you may want to schedule additional, more frequent meetings with this person in particular to coach them on their work and receive additional updates about what they're doing. They may have experience doing what they were hired to do, but it seems that their experience does not exactly carry over to what you want them to do. So, you may want to coach them a bit harder than you currently are. Again, this is part of the cost of having a remote team.

So, while meetings suck, the simple answer is that you need to have more meetings with relevant people to address these issues, or you need to revert to having an in-person team where you can act in a more agile way (I presume this is not an option for you, but I've added it for completeness; if you are able to ask your team to return to the office that may also help alleviate these types of issues). That's really all there is to it.

-3

You have to get a handle on the school commitments. This includes non-curricular stuff like sport, debating and so on. Don't take his word for it, check with the school to see his commitments that way. At his age school should come first. Otherwise you are in trouble with his folks.

I'm not saying when he disappears he's gettin' high with old buddy Smokie in a basement somewhere. But you have to make sure that he is able and willing to fulfil the demands of his job, not just be capable of doing so sometimes.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .