How Not to Neglect Your Remote Workforce

It’s easy for remote workers to feel out of the loop. Here are some simple tips to ensure they feel included.
It can be a blessing to roll straight out of bed and into your home office. No make-up, no traffic and minimal interruptions. But working from home is not always what it’s cracked up to be.

I recently began working remotely one day a week. While I’m grateful for the flexibility and the arrangement has eased some of the pressure off my home life, it has increased stress in other areas. The peace and quiet of home can at times transform into feelings of isolation and exclusion.

I don’t always vocalise these feelings, as I don’t want to place additional pressure on my colleagues to adapt their routine to accommodate me. And because it’s just one day a week, I’ve also been of the mind that we don’t need to structure our communications. But as time goes on, I’m beginning to realise that’s not the case.

What could my team, and others who find themselves in a similar situation, be doing differently?

How Not to Neglect Your Remote Workforce

Time matters

According to psychologist and author Paul White, remote employees value quality time with co-workers as much as affirmation – which includes communication about topics that aren’t always work-related. Without this level of depth, “It starts to drive the relationship towards them just feeling like a work unit rather than a person”, says White in an article in Fast Company.

White suggests devoting a little extra time to communicate casually with remote employees in between work-related discussions. He advises managers open up this dialogue by volunteering some personal information about themselves in interactions to encourage the employee to follow suit, which helps establish trust.

This includes making time for casual in-person catch-ups as well as on-site meetings.

Get virtual

It’s easy to take for granted the visual cues of the workplace until you are not physically present. The little smiles and nods we give and receive not only make us feel more connected, they contain valuable information.

Prompt digital communication becomes even more important to a remote employee, as this is their lifeline to the workplace. It’s crucial, therefore, to get ‘virtual body language’ down pat. A recent article in Quartz describes good virtual body language as: “Speaking up on conference calls, turning on your camera for video chats, and responding to emails and instant messages in a timely fashion.”

The responsibility for effective virtual body language should be shared, with both the manager and remote worker having a part to play. Managers should consider that virtual employees may be worried about asking for too much from their flexible arrangement, says Kahtleen Pai in Quartz, and advises taking a proactive stance in order to make them feel more comfortable.

This includes allowing employees that work remotely to speak first in teleconference meetings. Those present in the room can more easily sway the conversation and it can be difficult for the remote worker to voice their opinion and feel heard.

Shopify’s remote employee experience specialist, Chivron John, suggests avoiding large meetings in the boardroom when there is only one remote employee dialled in. “That can make them feel isolated, so try to level the playing field by having fully remote meetings, even when a majority of attendees are in-house,” says John in Fast Company.

When it comes to giving feedback, email or chat aren’t the best way to get a message across for everyone. It’s often easy to misconstrue something as negative without tone or verbal clarity. For instance, ‘nice job.’ can seem biting and sarcastic even when it’s meant genuinely. The lack of tone can mean people obsess over punctuation. “Did they mean to not capitalise? Are they angry? Where are the emojis?” For that reason, it’s can be better to communicate either face-to-face via video conference or on the phone.

Is it the right fit?

While the benefits of remote working are seemingly clear, such as increasing workforce diversity and productivity, and reducing turnover and costs, it’s not the best fit for every employee.

It’s important for employees to take into account whether they are the type of worker that benefits from some unencumbered alone time, or whether they feel rootless without a manager monitoring their progress. Sometimes you don’t know until you try something on for size. Trialing remote working beginning at one day at week over a three-month period is a good place to start, which includes a detailed schedule and time frame of how this day should look communication-wise.

The simplest gestures such as a quick morning phone catch-up can go a long way in terms of making a remote employee feel at ease. It can be as easy as picking up the phone – some advice I should likely follow myself.

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