Long-distance relationships are hard. Skype and AT&T carry your voice, but they miss out on context and body language, which are key components of effective communication. Considering the dual challenges of building trust and a busy schedule, establishing a bond remotely with someone new is very difficult.
But what ultimately sustains these long-distance relationships is a strong foundation. Here are a few tips for getting your relationship with an offsite assistant or colleague off to a solid start. Though these processes may be time-consuming, getting through them in the first 60 days will set the tone for an effective, professional relationship going forward.
1. Engage early, often, and consistently
Get ready to communicate, especially in those first few weeks of a new relationship. This means that you need to make yourself accessible and call your assistant regularly. You can schedule regular check-ins several times a week or just call her when you have a few minutes. Keeping up these interactions in the beginning will ensure that your assistant understands how you work and what is expected of her. It also helps with sorting through teething issues that may be new to both of you.
Another idea is to ask your assistant for regular, daily updates via email. These daily emails create an ongoing dialog, which is key to developing a relationship together. They also help both parties identify where and how the assistant is utilizing her time.
2. First process, then tasks
Before you start with your new assistant, think carefully about what sorts of things take up a chunk of your time repeatedly throughout the day or week. These include items like setting up recurring meetings or filing expense reimbursements. Always start by offloading these repeat processes to your assistant, so that she can learn your systems and preferences.
The first thing you ask your assistant to do for you should never be a one-off task. If you only send over work as you think of things, you will need to explain all the details of how you want everything done. By setting up repeat processes first, your assistant can gradually understand your core systems and become able to handle one-off tasks.
3. Test the water
Start your assistant off with a few simple things, and review her progress in a scheduled check-in early on. For example, ask her to input four client contacts into a database and check back with her on this process before sending over more work. Doing so will prevent mistakes and bad habits from perpetuating themselves.
4. Identify the family tree
Spend some time up front briefing your assistant on key clients or colleagues that she will interact with. This includes the single point of contact between your company and your assistant (which should ideally be you). Share any relevant background and define the appropriate tone and priority level for corresponding with these important people. When possible, leverage your contacts database or client relationship management software (CRM) to share this information. Doing so will quickly teach your assistant who’s important and how to manage your CRM at the same time.
5. Everyone’s a critic
You may see a lot of things you like and some that you don’t like in the first few days. Providing honest, real-time feedback is essential to sustaining your long-distance relationship. Use specific examples in your feedback and consider discussing the issue with the PA’s team captain first if you haven’t yet formed a personal relationship with your PA. If you observe some tasks not meeting expectations, let your PA know how they can improve by giving details.
- Not very effective: “Can you please manage my e-mails better? I missed a chance to meet with Jerry this week.”
- More effective:“Thank you for scheduling the meeting. However, the meeting invitation did not have a location. In the future, for meetings at my office, please include the complete address of our office.”
And don’t forget that feedback can be positive, too! If you see something that’s working, point it out to your assistant with a specific example as a best practice that you would like to use again.
Building a strong relationship with someone you can’t see everyday will take some time. Give it a couple of weeks before you both get into a groove and understand how each other work. If you take the time to start off strong, it will be the beginning of something beautifully efficient.
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