If you want to successfully manage a large group of people, send in the Marines. Sean Jackson has answered the call.
The veteran leatherneck left the military only to find the civilian ways of business wanting. He discovered that too many people don’t get the freedom they need to thrive.
Jackson founded and is CEO of the employee directory and workforce data company Sift. Through that, he offers advice on how to manage the modern workforce and set teams up for success.
Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture chief executive officer Meghan M. Biro talked with Jackson about how to successfully administer today’s workers. That includes ways to stay connected with teams and give people the tools they need to succeed.
Compared to years past with high unemployment rates, modern workers have more options if dissatisfied at their present employment. They have less fear of leaving with uncertain prospects for finding new and better work.
“My biggest challenge is working with a remote team,” Biro said. “Communicating and collaborating with teams and partners around the world isn’t easy.
“A lot of us are just now realizing how difficult it is to communicate with remote teams,” she said. “Text-based conversations just don’t cut it.”
Biro wrote for Forbes about the need to focus on human talent development even in the age of more technology and artificial intelligence.
“Leaders and ‘doers’ must be equipped with the tools and resources they need to complete the missions they are given,” Jackson said. “Frontline leaders especially are rarely given the tools they need to be successful at what is essentially a career change — from ‘doer’ to ‘manager.’
“People can lose their humanity if you only interact with them via text,” he said. “We need to be conscious of creating real connection.”
People crave face-to-face time.
“We feel this especially when collaborating on a problem,” Jackson said. “Whiteboards are amazing until not everyone is in front of the same one.
“If you have even one remote team member, you really need to act as if everyone is remote, or it will lead to unequal outcomes and bad feelings,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure junior leaders and senior leaders are on the same page — and that junior leaders know senior leaders have their back even when things inevitably go sideways.”
Simple communication is neither that simple nor the solution to a problem.
“Being able to communicate with someone does not mean you are ‘connected’ to them,” Jackson said. “Clearly, both are needed, but it’s much harder to cultivate connection than communication.”
With more remote workers entering the picture, every team meeting has become a combination of in-person engagement and conference calls. It’s virtually impossible to get everyone together in one place at the same time.
“Remember fax machines?” Biro said. “The way we communicate has changed a ton. The biggest change is that it’s often hard to know people’s reaction on the other end of the keyboard.
“That’s not to say I don’t love digital communication and social media,” she said. “Actually, I find myself constantly defending it.”
Another of her Forbes articles looked at how social media is not the death of meaningful communication.
“Communicating digitally is all about being more intentional,” Biro said. “Here’s my hot take: Emojis are totally OK to use at work. They really help to convey emotion.”
Jackson also weighed in on long-distance interaction.
“More and more, often we’re communicating virtually with people we never meet in person,” he said. “This changes the nature of relationships and can lead to transactional relationships with ‘people’ transforming into ‘titles’ and ‘roles’ if you are not careful.”
Tech has changed what “put in in writing” means.
“When your feed flies by, having it ‘written down’ is not the same thing as having it effectively communicated,” Jackson said. “Having purchased and deployed tools is not the same as effectively integrating them into operations. Having and using are different things — and many companies stop at having.”
Amid the struggle to feel connected — even with all the tech available – developing strong relationships at work is another challenge.
Get familiar with tech and how team members use it. Each person is different — regardless of generation. When you know people’s preferences, you can communicate better at their level.
“Ask people questions about themselves,” Biro said. “Find out what’s going on in their lives beyond the report you need.
“A workplace that’s less hierarchical and more collaborative is better for everyone,” she said.
Jackson hopes leaders and teams will revive the art of conversation.
“Take the time to talk to people just because — only if they also need a break, of course,” he said with a laugh. “No agenda and not about work — just treat colleagues like humans.”
Biro and Jackson went more in-depth on workplace challenges during a podcast.