Remote working is now commonplace in many organizations thanks to technology advancements and changing attitudes about where and how work can be done. These arrangements can help businesses and their staff to be more productive, while also giving professionals the opportunity to achieve better work-life balance.
However, there is a potential downside to this staffing strategy that employers should be mindful of: remote employees can sometimes feel isolated from their in-office colleagues.
If this feeling persists, there’s a strong chance your remote employees will become less productive over time — and might even decide to leave the company. According to a study on workplace happiness from Robert Half and London-based Happiness Works, positive workplace relationships are a key influence on whether employees are engaged at work and satisfied in their jobs.
Following are several things you can do as a manager to help remote workers feel more connected to the business and to their co-workers. These ideas are easy to implement and can create positive benefits for all your staff — no matter where they are located:
Adopt tools that help everyone work better together
Corporate culture has a lot to do with whether an employee feels connected to his or her workplace. And good communication is an essential component of a strong corporate culture. Luckily, we live in an age where there is an abundance of simple, cost-effective tools that can help workers collaborate and stay connected anytime, anywhere. (Skype, Google Hangouts, Basecamp, HipChat, Slack and Bitrix24 are just a few examples of widely used tools for these purposes.)
A quick internet search can help you find the right technology solutions for your staff. But be sure to ask employees for their input first. You’ll have a hard time improving team communication if few or none of your workers want to use the resources that management has selected for them.
Create opportunities for ‘breakroom-style’ conversations
Even if remote workers are in constant communication with their in-office teammates about work through email, text, phone and collaboration tools, they still might not have much opportunity to engage in personal chit-chat. You know — the type of laid-back, organic, workplace conversations where people discuss their weekend plans, talk about their favorite TV shows or brag about how their kid scored a game-winning goal in peewee soccer. These conversations help to build camaraderie among co-workers, which means remote team members are missing out on a lot more than just relaxed conversation with colleagues.
When possible, set aside a few minutes before or after group meetings for your staff to share personal updates, if they’d like to. (Making time for more “human” conversation at work can also help you to improve communication with your staff.) Video conferencing is ideal for this type of information sharing, of course, since it’s a way for everyone to talk face-to-face virtually — but conference calls can work fine, too. You could even take things a step further by setting up a short team meeting — say every other Friday — strictly for the purposes of catching up, like a virtual coffee break.
Invite remote employees to participate in job rotation and mentoring programs
Finance leaders interviewed for a recent Robert Half Management Resources survey said job rotation creates many benefits for businesses and workers. Professional development, stronger succession planning, and enhanced recruiting and retention were among the top examples cited.
However, it can be easy to overlook remote employees when setting up a job rotation program for your workplace. Doing so can prevent remote team members and in-house staff from gaining valuable experience. The same is true for mentoring. Remote workers can certainly benefit from these arrangements — both as mentors and mentees. So, be sure to invite them to participate.
Never fail to explain how everyone makes a difference
Another survey by our company found that more than half of professionals (53 percent) wish they had more insight on how their day-to-day duties make a difference to their organization. That means there’s a good chance you have some work to do in helping your workers understand how their contributions fit into the big picture at your firm.
Staff meetings, performance reviews and regular check-ins all provide opportunities for managers to communicate this information. However, you might need to make an extra effort with your remote teams since they may not always be able to readily see the impact their work makes on the company.
Include remote staff in team off-sites and other special events
Whether it’s a formal occasion, like a companywide meeting, or a more casual activity like an awards-show contest, make sure remote staff are invited to attend. If logistics prevent them from being there in person, try to include them virtually. Or take pictures during the event and share them on the firm's intranet or social media page so remote employees can see them, too.
In short, make the point to ensure team members who work off-site — and perhaps, in locations far away from the home office — don’t completely miss out on receiving important information firsthand or taking part in a fun group activity.
Emphasize the message of teamwork
You can only do so much as a manager to help all your workers feel more connected to their jobs, their colleagues and the organization. But you can make a lot of headway by infusing the message of teamwork into the company’s culture.
Communicate the importance of working together to help the business succeed, and highlight the achievements of employees who excel at it. When teamwork is a source of pride at your firm, and actively promoted and celebrated, there will be less chance of any employee in your organization feeling isolated.