Out of sight, out of mind.
For many remote workers, that cliche is reality. Even though they work as hard as—or harder than—their cubicle-dwelling colleagues, telecommuters often feel overlooked, ignored, and even forgotten.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a manager of several remote employees, some of whom are in an office in a different city and one of whom works from home thousands of miles away, I’ve learned that what I do in the main office can make their lives more difficult. I’ve also discovered ways to alleviate some of the headaches that come along with remote work.
Here are a few things that make remote workers feel forgotten, and what both their managers and their coworkers can do to alleviate those problems.
Schedule meetings and activities with everyone in mind.
When you have team members working in three different time zones, as I do, it can be challenging to schedule meetings at times that work for everyone. But making the effort to do so is important. If your remote workers have to start work early or stay at the computer in their home office late into the evening just to participate in a meeting, you’re doing a disservice to them and to your team’s productivity.
And this suggestion goes beyond meetings. We plan a team lunch about once every month, and I always feel guilty that our remote workers are left out of those activities. Since each remote employee visits our main office once each quarter, I try to schedule team lunches during the weeks that they are on-site. And during the months that none of them are with us, I encourage them to go out to lunch once on the company’s dime. I know that doesn’t provide the team-building they would get if they were with the rest of us, but at least it’s a little something to help them know they’re not forgotten.
Clean up communication problems.
If you ask remote workers what their top pet peeves are, the challenges of conference calls and videoconferences will likely top the list. In fact, according to a study cited by HubSpot, such virtual meetings are a major source of frustration for workers, who cite poor reception, people talking over each other, and an inability to properly use the “mute” button among the most common irritations.
Other remote workers are frustrated by calls in which only they are conferenced in, while everyone else is sitting in the same room, ensuring that the person who is on the phone will struggle to keep up with the conversation. If it’s a conference call, couldn’t everyone dial in from their desks to make sure they’re on equal footing?
My team starts the day with a kickoff meeting three times a week, and our remote colleagues call in for it. It’s always a struggle for them to participate, though, and I’ve experienced this firsthand when I’ve tried to run the meeting from a different office.
To help, I convinced IT to purchase a small speaker that I can hook to my laptop, which improves both the incoming and outgoing sound quality during these meetings. I also schedule a conference room in the other office whenever I can, so my workers there can meet together and more easily participate with us via video. Finally, I try to pause when I ask a question of a remote employee, allowing her time to un-mute her phone and respond. None of this makes the experience the same as it would be if they were in the same room, but it does improve things.
To help even more, I suggest setting aside a few minutes during team meetings to let remote workers ask their colleagues about work-related challenges or share tales of success. Telecommuters don’t have the opportunity to chat about the highs and lows of the workday through casual conversation, so it’s nice to offer a specific time for a “remote roundup.”
Don’t be a stranger.
This is primarily aimed at managers. If you really want to know what kinds of challenges your remote workers are facing, a little personal experience goes a long way.
I discovered this when I visited my two team members who work in a different office. As mentioned earlier, I ran a couple of morning kickoff meetings from that office, and it gave me new insights into the difficulty those workers face with hearing and participating in the meeting. We have a fairly rambunctious team at times, which means people talk over each other, laugh, and mutter funny comments under their breath. That all gets lost in translation when you’re attending via videoconference.
In addition to giving you firsthand information about communication problems, visiting remote workers allows you to get real face time. This is helpful for building stronger teams and getting to know each other, so I strongly encourage sending both managers and other team members to remote offices on occasion to make those connections.
And when your remote workers are spending time in the main office, be sure to encourage them and their teammates to get together in both informal and work-related contexts. Everyone should make the effort to strengthen bonds and overcome the potential awkwardness of such visits.
Remember everyone at promotion time.
Some remote workers complain that they are passed over for promotions simply because they are not within their manager’s line of sight.
If you manage telecommuters, make sure you’ve developed a system to evaluate their productivity and the quality of their work. If they’re meeting or exceeding the standards that would lead to the promotion of a colleague in the office, remote workers should have the same opportunity to move ahead.
Much of this may seem like common sense, but if you follow these suggestions, you will help your remote employees and colleagues feel more connected to your company’s culture. Then they’ll know that, even though they may be out of sight, they’re always top of mind.