Do you think working remotely or the use of “virtual offices” is a fairly recent phenomenon?
Think again. The integration between where people live and where they work began centuries ago; prior, even, to the Industrial Revolution. Granted, the concept – the benefits and the demands – of “home-based work” has certainly evolved since the 1870’s; but many of the pitfalls of remote work have not.
While WAH (Work-At-Home) team members may enjoy a sense of flexibility and independence that their office-based co-workers do not (yes, it’s noon and I’m still sporting my PJ pants), there are definite trade-offs that may need additional attention.
Leave it to the poet, Robert Frost, to see and articulate the challenges of solitude, and our need as human beings for that feeling of “connectedness.” In his work entitled, The Tuft of Flowers, written in 1897, he describes this search for connection, the search for “a spirit kindred to my own.” He arrives at a field with the hope of finding a friend. But the friend is not there. “He had gone his way, the grass all mown, and I must be, as he had been —alone.”
Human beings need interconnection.
When they work together, whether they’re right beside each other or in completely different time zones, interconnection between co-workers is vital. As an organization that supports remote team members, it’s important to keep those team members connected, engaged, productive, and consistently aware of the fact that their contributions are valuable to the company’s success.
Since remote workers are cut off from the average day-to-day business routine, it’s easy for them to feel isolated and out of the loop. Feeling uninformed, unappreciated or under-utilized slows productivity for the individual team member, as well as the larger team. And that’s bad for business.
The number of employed U.S. residents who work from home is dramatically increasing, with a recent Gallup poll estimating this figure at around 43 percent. There are clear upsides to remote work policies, most significantly that these employment arrangements can save the typical business around $11,000 per person, per year, according to a Global Workplace Analytics study; a national savings of $700 billion per year!
Another predictable upside is that many employees love to work from home.
PJ pants, starting a load of laundry, and Instant Pot prepping aside, a recent SHRM article reports that employees may actually get more work done while working remotely. Technology has narrowed the information accessibility gap on a variety of fronts, especially considering the number of collaboration apps and platforms now available. And yet, even with all of this upside, there remains a steep downside, as well.
Despite all of the reasons to be happy, being “out of sight, out of mind” can lead to feeling disconnected and disenchanted. So if your remote employees are feeling truly remote, here are a few ways to help keep them happy, included, engaged, and productive.
Make expectations clear
Setting clear expectations is an important motivator for remote workers. Remote employees are somewhat deprived of your company’s culture, and this can lead to an unclear sense of the company’s objectives.
Your company should regularly conduct one-on-one meetings with remote workers to ensure their awareness of these goals. Make sure you are helping them manage their time effectively with clear goals, deliverables and timelines. A work/project management platform can help them to keep their priorities top-of-mind, have instant access to team portals and projects, and update other associates on their progress or needs.
In short, a constant flow of communication will help your remote workers stay motivated, on task, up-to-date, and remind them that you value their work.
Keep them feeling connected
Ironically, despite all of the technological strides in communication, communicating with remote associates can still be challenging. The simple fact of not being in the corporate office can lead to inadequate communication to a remote worker. And, while it’s important to frequently communicate deadlines and expectations, there’s more to communication than work.
Building trust and camaraderie are critical, too. Keep your remote employees connected on a personal level. Get to know what’s important to each other: names of family members or a significant other, pet’s names, favorite team, podcast, or binge-worthy series. Build those bonds…like the one Robert Frost was missing that day.
Conduct weekly team staff meetings that enable every team member to give an update and hear everyone’s voice. Include remote workers in company-wide meetings or events. This lets your remote workers know that they’re a key part of the team and ensures they’re aware and accountable if your company’s goals or timelines change.
Focus on what is produced, rather than when
Jason Fried, author of Office Not Required, notes that “one of the secret benefits of using remote workers is that the work itself becomes the yardstick to judge someone’s performance.”
It is not only important to recognize great work; your company should also allow remote workers to choose when to produce great work. Your company should never place unnecessary restrictions on remote workers, especially when they have a method that works better for them. If the expectations, deliverables, and deadlines are clear, the “how” and “when” shouldn’t matter.
Focusing on what is important rather than what is urgent – as well as what works for the individual – allows remote workers to perform at their best.
Bottom line, how do you keep your remote associates from feeling remote?
Keep in mind that, like you, they’re always in search of “a spirit kindred to their own.”