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[Guest Columnist: Today’s post is written by Kyle Lagunas, an HR analyst at Software Advice.]

The modern organization has changed—it is decentralized and increasingly virtual. For decades, “The HP Way,” which advocates “managing by walking around,” was a prime example of how to run an organization. But as the workforce continues to become more mobile, the constraints of a structured nine-to-five schedule are becoming a thing of the past.

Your employee handbook says you have an open door policy, but in an increasingly virtual workplace, employees are not seeking to enter a physical office. As such, most open door policies are more metaphorical.

Employees want to reach you via chat, email, and collaboration platforms. There are several ways even the busiest leaders can chat, check in, and connect with their workforce, though you may not be familiar or entirely comfortable with them. With the right tools and the right attitude, though, you can breathe new life into your open door policy—and strengthen your employee relations.

Talking to employees face-to-face is one thing, but when you’re connecting with them online, the rules are a bit different. “Team spirit and a sense of shared mission are easily lost,” warns David Freedman, technology columnist for the New York Times’ You’re the Boss blog. Rather than jumping in head first, there a few rules of thumb to consider when connecting online:

1. Relax Informal check-ins are more comfortable for employees. A casual hello-how-are-you can offer an excellent opportunity for leaders to coach employees and get valuable feedback from them. When communications from leadership are limited to formal, unidirectional messaging, there’s not going to be a whole lot of meaningful dialogue occurring.

Chat clients are a simple solution for quick communications with your team. Some of us are familiar with this media, but others might struggle with the conversational tone, lowercase letters and lack of punctuation. Keep things short and respond quickly. The point here is that you’re making yourself available and approachable.

 2. You don’t have to be a tech guru If you’re not super savvy when it comes to technology, don’t sweat it. Your organization may already have tools in place and you shouldn’t be afraid to try your hand at them. In fact, your leading by example can encourage employees to dig deeper into the technology your organization makes available to them.

“Whatever your style is as a leader, find the tool that you are most comfortable with, and then go with it,” says Lori Knowlton SVP of HR at HomeAway. The important thing is to find the tool that suits you and suits your company.

3. Onboard your team Rally your team to a common communications and collaboration platform, and make sure they use it. The more people you have using the same tool to communicate, the easier it is to connect with them. Over time, the value of everyone working together on one system will make it a critical part of their routine.

HomeAway finds social collaboration tools like Yammer to be incredibly useful for fostering personable communication and dynamic collaboration across the organization. “We’ve seen a tremendous adoption across the organization,” says Knowlton. The vibrant company culture at HomeAway is a major contributor to their steady growth and success, and the value of this degree of buy-in is self-evident.

Interacting Critical, Tools Helpful
Interaction with a good boss is critical to realizing your full potential as an employee. With the right tools, keeping tabs on your people and your organization can become a part of your regular workflow. Go forth and dabble in a few different products until you find the right one, keeping in mind that many tools are free at their most basic level.

Kyle Lagunas is an HR analyst at Software Advice who reports on trends and best practices in learning and talent management systems.

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