In today’s mobile-first environment, employing a remote workforce has become standard operating procedure for many businesses. Whether it be part-timers who have a hybrid schedule or a fully dedicated off-site team, in some way or another, businesses know a cohesive remote work policy is crucial. This is especially true for those looking to remain competitive in a fierce talent market – 85 percent of workers surveyed stated in our recent Breaking Barriers 2020 that working from home, at least part time, is appealing. But as noted in a blog posted earlier this year, maximizing the potential of your remote employees requires forethought and strategy behind it. Otherwise, any attempt to satisfy this growing employee expectation may backfire.
This past November, the Harvard Business Review published a study of 1,153 employees and how they view their relationships with on-site colleagues. Of those surveyed, 52 percent stated that they work from home at least some of the time. Interestingly, the results were mixed when it came to how employees felt about remote work. While the option to live and work as they please was listed as an important benefit, in some cases they felt alienated from the rest of the workforce. Respondents cited office politics, prolonged conflict resolution and a lack of advocacy from managers as significant issues. They didn’t feel that sense of camaraderie that helps build a supportive (and productive) workforce.
Many of these issues raised are valid, but are symptomatic of a larger issue. Professionals are still learning how to use the same tools that enable us to work remotely to replicate the in-person, face-to-face experience. A large number of managers leading remote work teams are doing so for the first time – there’s no playbook. Breaking Barriers also revealed that 86 percent of employees believe that in person interaction will always be important. This means that can’t look at these platforms just through the lens of getting work done, but also as a way to connect with each other as individuals.
Here are a few tips to help build your remote collaboration skills to keep everyone engaged, and feeling a part of your office community:
- Schedule regular touch bases. Even if you’re working on a team, it’s easy to feel isolated when you’re working remotely. Set time aside each week to connect with colleagues to align on priorities and other action items. These conversations don’t need to be 100 percent work-related either. Bring the “office water cooler” virtual by taking a few minutes to catch up personally before diving in.
- Don’t miss out on face time opportunities. Video conferencing is vital to building a rapport between employees, their teams and managers. Not only does it help people read social cues, but knowing your colleagues can see you pushes people to be more engaged during meetings.
- Lead by example: It’s important for managers to set the stage and model behavior for the rest of the organization. Managers should think “remote-first” when planning office meetings, culture events and so on to fully incorporate employees regardless of location. Establishing video conference culture will ensure remote workers feel that they have the full attention of the rest of their colleagues, and help create real relationships across the entire staff.
The key to building a healthy and happy remote workforce is simple: effort. The flexibility that naturally draws us to remote work isn’t free; it requires going the extra mile to make people feel appreciated, heard and included.