Increasingly, working remotely is becoming less of a perk and more of a way of life.
According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace Report, 43 percent of employed Americans reported working remotely at least some of the time. Throughout 2015 and 2016, the polling company used the Gallup Panel and Gallup Daily tracking, Gallup’s Q Client Database and insight from leading Fortune 1000 advisors to gather data from more than 195,600 U.S. employees. They found that “flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job.”
Working remotely has been shown to have many upsides on both the business end and employee satisfaction. On the business side, hiring remote employees can lower office space overhead and open up a greater talent pool by foregoing geographical limitations and offering more opportunities to stay-at-home parents and shut-ins. Employees enjoy the flexibility, autonomy, and freedom to choose their work atmosphere. These boons factor into a big plus for both sides: increased productivity.
On the flipside, working remotely still has its downsides. Harvard Business Review reported employees who work remotely often feel disconnected and, possibly, less respected than their office-bound colleagues: a whole new and not very pleasant spin on “remote” employees. This one negative factor can undo the positives of working remotely, leading to lower job satisfaction and higher turnover.
So, how can you help remote employees feel less, well, remote?
Here are some ways employers and employees can close the distance between the home office and the office at home.
1. Drink Up
There’s a reason the old “employees gathered around the water cooler” stereotype exists: it actually happens. But what is it that makes the water cooler scenario so attractive? It’s probably not to talk of the latest RFP or Q2 earnings. The proverbial water cooler is where colleagues get to talk about more than just work: Johnny’s painting, Susie’s soccer game, the latest TV or cinema sensation.
It’s important for colleagues to acknowledge that each other have lives outside of the office. Working from home doesn’t exempt someone from this reality. In fact, it may be even more important to engage co-workers who may work from home in order to help them keep a healthy balance between work and home lives. You may not be able to physically meet at the water cooler, but you can still connect on a level beyond the daily grind.
2. Save Face
Another bonus of the water cooler? Facetime. Facial expressions, vocal inflections and mannerisms can change the entire feel and outcome of a conversation. Unfortunately, a lot of nuances can get lost in translation, as it were, when everything is in 12 pt. Times New Roman. No wonder emojis are so popular.
Phone calls can cover inflection, but the real leaps and bounds in tech-based communication came with video conferencing. Thanks to video conferencing, you don’t have to be in the same room, city, or even country to get in some quality face time. Phone calls and videos also allow remote employees to attend meetings (and receive information) they’d otherwise miss. Don’t worry, most video conferencing images show shoulders up, so you might have to brush your hair and put on a nicer top, but you can still wear your pajama bottoms.
Still, there’s no substitute for the real thing. So, if your remote employee is local, encourage out of office outings. Schedule some off-campus work groups to boost camaraderie.
For staff further away, allocate budget annually to have them travel to central office a few times a year or for special events such as holiday parties and awards dinners. For those times your employee can’t make that special occasion, a gift card for the same or similar place near them is a nice way to let them know they were missed.
3. Find App-ropriate Solutions
Want a head-whirling activity? Enter “business apps” into your search engine and try not to lose yourself down the rabbit hole. Business apps help keep remote teams engaged, communicating, and on track. Keep in touch with messaging apps such as Slack or Skype for Business, or try out one of the many walkie-talkie type apps for one-off notes and soundbites. Conferencing apps like WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Google Meet also allow for multiple presenters, screen sharing, and remote system management.
Beekeeper, Halogen TalentSpace Connect, and Qualtrics are just a few of the apps that offer talent management and feedback solutions. Last, but not least (okay, really not even close to last), keep an eye on project progress using project management apps, some of which integrate with other apps like your customer relationship management (CRM) software, human resources software, or employee engagement gamification software, so you can access all of your team solutions in one place.
4. Make it a Habit
However you engage your team, do it regularly. Schedule check-ins on a daily or weekly basis to align and/or realign goals and priorities. Some people call them huddles; development teams have co-opted the rugby term “scrum”; either way, think of them as quick visits to monitor progress, help prioritize the day, answer questions, and even share a little something personal or inspiring.
5. Slow Your Roll
The story of the tortoise and the hare taught us that faster isn’t always better. Likewise, the digital world sometimes needs a splash of analog. Most office staff members are more than likely in front of a computer all day. When they get home, there’s a good chance the last thing they want to do is hop on their personal computer for more screen time. Remote employees are no different. Depending on their equipment situation (e.g. if they’re working solely from a laptop), their eyes might even need more rest than office employees with greater access to equipment.
When it comes time for birthdays, anniversaries, or other noteworthy moments, spare your colleagues’ eyes and send honest-to-goodness, hand-signed paper cards via snail (or, should we say, tortoise?) mail. The tangible momentum is a nice personal touch, and Emily Post would be proud.
6. Promote your Brand
Speaking of tangible items, while you’re at the post office, send any company swag/merchandise that would normally be handed out or available at the office. Not only will your employee appreciate the new items and feel included, having your brand around the remote office keeps the business top of mind.
One Last Thing
Know your audience – not everyone wants to be involved. Some people work remotely because they work better detached. In fact, pressing increased engagement may generate opposite results. As long as it doesn’t affect their job performance or satisfaction, it’s quite all right to leave them be.
Melissa Reinke is a writer for TechnologyAdvice.com. She is a storyteller, editor, writer, and all-around word nerd extraordinaire. She spends her days managing web content and her nights unwinding in myriad creative ways, including writing for herself and others. From personal memoirs to professional solutions, when writing and editing for others Melissa’s singular goal is to sculpt each piece into its best, most successful form while maintaining the integrity of the original voice and vision. Based in Music City, USA, Melissa can often be found enjoying great live tunes with even better friends. Then again, she’s just as likely to be found curled up with a good book and a tasty beverage.