Remote employees increasingly feel isolated and lonely. It’s up to HR departments to make them feel like part of the team.
The workplace is no longer just one office or location.
Whether it’s due to sudden concerns about spreading viruses or broad trends like rising transportation and real estate costs—as well improved technology and web conferencing software that breaks down barriers—more and more employees are working remotely. Globally, more than half of employees work outside of their employer’s primary offices at least 2.5 days per week, making flexible working the new normal.
In fact, according to a recent Capterra survey, more than 20% of respondents work from home exclusively.
The flexibility this change has afforded employers and employees alike can’t be overstated (says the guy writing this from his couch). But the physical distance separating a growing number of remote workers from the rest of their colleagues also presents new issues:
- Remote employees are more prone to feeling left out or shunned by others, partly because they’re worried decisions and changes are being made without their input.
- Remote employees commonly struggle with loneliness and a lack of collaboration.
- One-third of remote employees never get any face-to-face time with their team.
Make no mistake: If your HR department doesn’t act fast, these issues will cause your remote employees to become disengaged and leave.
Businesses must implement tools and policies with the needs of remote employees in mind to enjoy greater retention and engagement from their remote workforce.
3 tips to make your remote employees feel more included
If you’ve been ignoring your remote workforce’s needs or assumed their needs are the same as your in-office employees, it’s time for some changes.
Here are three tips to get things started.
Tip #1: Bring your watercooler online
The weather, that crazy game last night, or whatever you’re bingeing lately. In the office, it’s easy to take small talk like this for granted. For remote workers who rarely get to participate in it, though, small talk is a precious commodity. Without small talk, a remote worker’s only connection to their co-workers is, well, work.
The jury may still be out on whether collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams actually make us more productive, but there’s little doubt as to their importance for remote teams to be able to participate in all-important small talk.
If you don’t have one of these tools already, get one. Then, do some basic setup to encourage your workers to use the tool the right way:
As an added bonus, your managers now have the perfect forum to broadcast remote employee accomplishments to the whole team or even the whole company—another key to making them feel included.
Tip #2: Train managers to fairly assess and promote remote workers
While managers would like to believe they treat all of their workers the same, their employees might not feel the same way—especially remote employees who lack visibility with their manager compared to their in-office counterparts. Case in point: One out of four millennial remote employees worry they’re missing out on career opportunities.
HR departments need to work with management to quell these concerns, or risk watching their best remote talent leave to work for someone who gives them those opportunities.
The Gartner report “Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Managing the Remote Worker” covers two things you should train managers on to ensure they treat remote workers fairly when it comes to their performance and career progression (full research available to Gartner clients):
- Offer remote employees stretch assignments and leadership opportunities. Assigning all of the easy, rote work to remote employees so you don’t have to check on them as often is the management version of cutting corners. Managers should offer their remote teams challenging work that tests them and check in regularly to offer help if they’re struggling. Letting remote workers lead projects will also support more interactions between remote and in-office team members.
- Measure performance on outcomes, rather than effort or observation. If you’re using time taken or “effort” to assess worker performance, stop. HR and management should work together to develop better outcome-based metrics for easier apples-to-apples comparison of remote employee performance. This could include measurable quantities of output (e.g., lines of code) or a peer review to assess quality.
Don’t discount the importance of developing new skills either. While remote workers should (like all employees) be the ones to own their development, managers play a key role in helping them along.
Tip #3: Mix it up when it comes to face-to-face time
If the only time remote workers see their team is during a blurry, lagging video conference call that takes place once a month, can you really blame them for feeling like their team doesn’t know or understand them?
As the remote workforce grows, companies need to strive to mix up these strictly business meeting calls with other forms of face-to-face time so teams can start to see their remote colleagues as people, rather than just heads on a screen.
For that last one, plan when remote workers visit the mother ship around changes that would benefit the most from face-to-face communication, such as a major strategy shift or leadership change.
We’re not even remotely done
Even the best and brightest fumble when it comes to managing a remote workforce. Companies such as Best Buy, Yahoo, and IBM have gone so far as to abandon their remote workforce programs because they couldn’t achieve the collaboration they wanted.
For most companies, this kind of drastic action is unnecessary. With the right tools and tactics, your business can not only accommodate a remote workforce but actually make them feel valued too.
This huge topic can’t be covered entirely in one article, so be sure to check out our additional resources on remote teams:
Capterra Remote Work Surveys, November 2019
The remote work survey referenced in this article was conducted by Capterra in November 2019 among 912 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States. A follow-up survey was conducted in November 2019 among 394 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States, 140 of whom reported not working remotely on a regular basis.