How many of your employees work remotely and spend very limited time (or perhaps no time at all) in the office? Technology has given us the ability to work at home, on a train, in a Starbucks, and even on a beach with near seamless connectivity to and integration with the corporate office. In fact, as I write this I’m sitting in my living room, with my feet propped up on the ottoman, a cup of coffee by my side, and a crackling fire in the woodstove.
After over a decade of working outside a traditional office setting, I would find it pretty tough to make the transition back to that environment. My workplace arrangement hasn’t always been without challenges, though. When I first traded the traditional 9-to-5 office setting for my home office, I struggled with the lack of social interaction I had with my coworkers and sometimes felt out of the loop.
HR needs to pay more attention to—and work harder to eliminate (or at least mitigate)—the alienation that remote workers often experience. Employees who feel out of touch can become turnover risks. Also, when organizations have mostly an office-based work culture, remote employees can end up being forgotten and overlooked for projects and promotions.
To keep remote teams working at maximum efficiency and to keep them as integrated as possible into the organization, try some of the following strategies:
Assign a remote worker as a mentor for a new employee. Not only does this help a remote employee feel more socially connected to the office, but it’s also a great opportunity for her to share her knowledge and experience with a colleague.
Have weekly video meetings with remote team members. Just because someone is far away doesn’t mean there’s no need for him to check in regularly with his manager.
Schedule quarterly, face-to-face meetings with remote workers. In-person contact helps strengthen employee–manager relationships. And bringing remote workers into the office from time to time helps them and their colleagues touch base with each other.
Pick up the phone. Text-based communication is notoriously bad at conveying nuance and tone. If you interact with your remote employees primarily via e-mail, chat, or other messaging, make it a point to have regular phone chats with them from time to time—particularly if there’s a message that you think could be misinterpreted if delivered only via text.
Schedule overlaps. Set schedules so that your remote workers’ hours overlap with the hours of the office-based workers. This doesn’t have to happen for every shift on every day, but it should be a frequent occurrence to keep those two colleague groups in touch with each other (and to help remote workers feel more like part of an active community).
When done well, remote work opportunities can be a win-win for everyone involved: the employee gets to shape his or her work environment, and the organization gets to keep a talented worker on board. Just remember, though, that even though they aren’t in the office, remote workers are still part of the company. So be sure to make the extra effort to ensure that they feel that way.