When face time is a luxury, conveying subtleties through voice mail and email is imperative. Otherwise, you're just one more anonymous blip on the Boss's computer screen. Jaclyn Kostner, author of the best-seller "Virtual Leadership: Secrets from the Round Table for the Multi-Site Manager," consults with companies such as MCI, Packard Bell, and Ford on the finer points of virtual communication. Here are three of her techniques for making your presence felt at corporate headquarters, even when you're a hemisphere away.
It's midnight in London, and your boss hasn't sent the latest research figures for tomorrow morning's pitch to a big prospect.
"Maintain a neutral tone on the phone and avoid sending drive-by emails," counsels Kostner. "What sounds urgent in person will sound harsh electronically. If the boss's voice mail has a playback feature, use it. Make sure that the message you're leaving conveys a tone of concern rather than anger. And if you email, assume that your boss tried to send the material. That way you'll avoid sounding accusatory."
You and the boss have been playing phone tag all week. Now you're catching a connecting flight at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and your big project has heated to the boiling point. You hit speed-dial on your cell-phone, and you're bounced to the boss's voice mail. Again.
"When it comes to voice-mail messages, the biggest complaint from bosses is that their people ramble. Before making the call, know exactly what you're going to say, put the most important issues up-front, and limit the message to less than a minute. Be sure to leave a time to say when you can be reached, so the phone-tag game doesn't continue."
You've just lost the company's biggest account in South Africa. Now it's time to tell the boss.
Sure, an email message makes it easier to deliver bad news. But drop too many of these long-distance smart-bombs and you'll find yourself heading for the unemployment line.
"If something is going to have a big emotional or financial impact on your boss, you need to tell it to him in real time," warns Kostner. "That way you can gauge his response and change your delivery as the conversation progresses. Get to the point, keep it brief, and don't gloss it over."
Coordinates: $11.99. Virtual Leadership, Warner Books/Little Brown; www.distance.com .
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.