Remote work used to be something that included a minority of the workforce. However, we all now know that the coronavirus disrupted that routine. While many are anxious to get back to the office, the whole notion of how we work is being reevaluated.
The new future of work is not without many strong opinions. Many articles claim that going forward, we will all be remote workers in some form or fashion. Others claim that while the office may not be what it once was, the notion in and of itself will not completely go away.
Whatever the future of work looks like, there will always be a percentage of the workforce that remains remote (studies conducted before Covid-19 showed that remote work was already on the rise), which has its advantages and disadvantages. However, one thing is clear: businesses must make sure remote employees feel included as part of the organisation – or risk losing them altogether. The “risk of exile” is a very real thing among employees who work remotely.
In order to ensure your remote employees feel included in your organisation, here are some things I would recommend based on my experience as one who ran an organisation with about 30 percent of our employees and myself being remote.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
I have often heard my father say, “in the absence of communication, the imagination runs wild.” I have seen imaginations on full display in numerous office settings and once office gossip has started, it’s hard to put the rumour mill to rest.
One of the most powerful things you can do to make your remote employees feel included is communicate. In fact, you should look to over-communicate in multiple ways so they understand what is happening and how it will impact them and their roles.
A lack of communication can have numerous negative impacts on an organisation. Taking the time to communicate well and consistently will improve your remote employees’ level of engagement.
Ask for Their Input
While communication is vital to the inclusion of your remote employees, fostering a spirit of collaboration and asking for employee input raises the bar significantly.
During my leadership tenure at my first agency, we as executives made it a habit of asking for feedback and encouraging our team to innovate. We would recognise those that brought new ideas to the table, and gave them the freedom to question why we did things the way we were doing them. Not only did this enable us to improve our services, but in the words of one of our team members, “it fostered a spirit of ownership.”
Having this spirit of ownership and engagement woven into the fabric of your culture will reap big rewards for employees and employers as indicated in this Clear Review study that showed companies with high employee engagement outperform their competition.
It is ironic that for years we have been socially distancing from each other via our social media platforms and smartphones, yet when we were asked to quarantine, the one thing we desired the most was human connection. This should come as no surprise because as humans we are hard-wired for deep, meaningful connection.
This is why it is important to do all you can to engage face-to-face with remote employees. This does not necessarily mean employees need to travel to a corporate office to get required face time; however, using video conferencing whenever able should be a requirement.
I have one client who makes this a practice and I can attest to the connection it fosters. While I have never met many of the people in person, I do feel like I know them and am beginning to build relationships with them given our use of video conferencing and being able to see each other on a regular basis.
Ask and Listen
One thing that any manager or executive needs to remember is that they are in the people business. The employees that are within an organisation have human emotions, good days and bad days, fears and concerns, and the list goes on.
If you want to make sure your remote employees feel included and valued as a part of your organisation, make it a habit to ask them how they are doing and then listen.
I was on a call recently where the CEO of the organisation set aside twenty-minutes during an all-hands for this one question. It was amazing to hear and see the responses from the team, many who spoke openly about issues they were having, and others thanking the company for the culture they have created.
People want to be heard, they want to be recognised and they want to know that they are valued. This can be a challenge when all employees are in a centralised office setting, but when they are remote, it is more difficult. Take the time and the steps necessary to include your remote workers in your company and you will find the return on people investment will increase significantly.
Originally published Jun 23, 2020, updated Oct 19, 2020