Remote employees are becoming the new norm for companies across the globe. According to research from Global Workplace Analytics, employees benefit from the flexibility and mix of environments that facilitate both collaboration in-office and stronger focus on tasks when remote.
However, shifting to remote work isn’t always an easy transition. Individuals’ personality types and working styles must be taken into account, and maintaining a healthy balance and separation between a work mindset and personal time is key. In addition to supporting employees with resources to support remote work, managers and team leaders should keep in mind these tips for cultivating a positive and productive remote environment for everyone.
1. Trust comes first
Remote employees cannot be made to feel like they have to prove they’re working or productive. This is especially important for parents and caregivers who may be working the same amount of hours throughout the week, but have different periods of availability and focus than employees who are primarily in-office.
Building trust starts with remote inclusivity from management–engaging remote employees can be difficult for managers that are used to a traditional office environment. Take the time to understand your remote employees’ unique needs and build connection and empathy.
Plus, know that the flexibility found in remote schedules is by no means a bad thing. Research shows that remote workers have increased productivity when they follow their own schedules.
Remote employee engagement doesn’t mean forcing your external workers into the same boxes as your in-office staff. Flexible working is all about versatility, and you’ll build a strong culture around remote working if you give employees freedom and trust.
2. Set communication and scheduling norms
There are plenty of benefits to remote working and managing a remote team. Fewer distractions from the traditional workforce can contribute to higher efficiency, lower stress and boost morale.
On the flip side, remote working can contribute to feelings of isolation and disconnection. Impromptu but important conversations around ongoing work that happen face-to-face in the office can inadvertently exclude remote workers if communication norms aren’t established. Remember that nearly all remote communication happens asynchronously. Teams should agree on what’s appropriate for different types of messages (for example, when to use Slack versus email), calendar blocking, availability, reply expectations and response times during breaks or personal time blocks.
Establish team norms in terms of sharing and documenting information and updates. Ensure that employees inside and outside of the office all have access to the same information, resources and communication around a given project or task. This can reduce those feelings of confusion, minimize the risk of misunderstandings and ensure that the lines of communication with remote workers remain open.
3. Invest in both tech and training
Remote workers need reliable high-speed internet, cell phones with hotspots, VPNs and great hardware. Commit to providing these resources for them just as you would to on-location employees. Likewise, make sure your entire organization, both in-office and remote, is set up with effective chat tools and teleconferencing options. If you frequently use video chat, set up the right equipment throughout every conference room equally so remote workers are never excluded based on room availability.
It’s also important to provide remote employees with thorough privacy and security training. While remote workers have the flexibility to work at home, in public spaces like coffee shops or in co-working spaces, it’s important that they know how to fully secure information that might be displayed on their screen, or when to take meetings with sensitive information in a more private setting.
Lastly, this investment in training also applies to managers. Make sure every manager in your organization has formal training on working effectively with remote and distributed teams. This helps build an overall culture of remote inclusivity and level out any biases individual managers may have about remote work. This will create equal opportunities throughout your organization for team members to work remotely as their needs require.
4. Be an advocate
It’s easy for remote workers to be neglected in meetings, social events and even to leadership. Don’t let that happen. Build a culture of inclusivity for remote workers that extends from social gatherings to team meetings.
One way to ensure remote workers feel like full participants in meetings is to designate a remote advocate, who can monitor communications such as chat as well as the teleconference line or screen. For your remote workers, knowing that they have an extra way of “raising their hand” and getting noticed immediately by this advocate helps avoid the feeling that they aren’t full participants in the room. For in-office workers, remote advocacy builds good habits of adding in pauses and check-in routines to meetings that help ensure everyone in the room (whether virtually or physically present) is able to have their voice heard.
Finally, remember that everyone, including your remote workers, wants to be recognized for their efforts. Try broadcasting employee achievements over your communication channels. Digital channels let you celebrate remote or in-office employees with equal visibility. Broadcasting the achievements of all of your team members—including the ones working remotely—is a great way to ensure remote employee engagement, and maintain your sense of corporate culture.
5. Make time for face time
When it comes to remote employee engagement, remember that face-to-face interaction can be one of the most important factors in managing mistrust and improving coworker relationships.
If you work with remote employees in geographically diverse locations outside your main office, be sure to make time to meet up with them when visiting their area. Whether this ends up as a business meeting or a personal visit, you can ask for their recommendations about the area and build stronger connections by getting a first-hand feel for where they live and work.
If it’s possible for remote workers to visit the office occasionally, make it possible for them to do this for major events such as quarterly team meetings and company-wide events. These are great opportunities for both remote and in-office workers to put more of a face and personality to the people they typically interact with only through screens.
Equally important, however, is that employees whose circumstances don’t allow for travel have the chance to feel fully included in these types of casual events. Consider setting up team gatherings so that remote workers can be dialed in on video chat to participate, or create time for regular open chats that don’t have to be driven by a work agenda.
Transforming for the remote work era
The accessibility of distributed teams and cloud computing means that flexible working is more feasible than ever. Generationally, the importance of remote work is only likely to increase, with job flexibility one of the highest ranked work benefits by Millennials.
The more you can make your culture count for remote workers, the better you can ensure that all your employees feel as though they’re part of the same team. Think about how you can bring people together to celebrate the same values and traditions so that all of your team members feel they are part of a cohesive group. This helps promote morale and combat the feelings of disconnection or mistrust that can occur in remote teams. Having a plan in place to keep all employees engaged and in the loop will ultimately benefit all of your team members. For more tips on how to manage your team and your social strategy, no matter how your team is distributed, keep up with Sprout on Twitter.
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