There’s a good chance that you have already managed an employee working remotely or that you will eventually.
Largely due to the availability of high-speed Internet, the number of people who work from home at least one day per week rose from 9.5 million in 1999 to 13.4 million in 2010, according to the U.S. Census. The firm Global Workplace Analytics predicts this trend will continue, and that the number of remote workers will grow 21% by 2016.
Since remote workers miss out on daily interactions in the office, and may even live in a different time zone, they can easily feel isolated and disconnected from the group.
How do you help your remote workers feel like part of the team? To find out, we gathered advice from professionals who’ve worked from home, managed remote workers, and studied them. Here’s what they said:
Watch out for overwork, not underwork.
Employees who work from home inevitably have a difficult time balancing their work and personal lives. And though it seems like this could lead to slacking off, entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson explain in their book “Remote: Office Not Required” that the greater risk is having them burn out. It’s your responsibility to make sure that employees take enough time for themselves so that they can remain efficient in the long-run.
Schedule regular one-on-one check-ins.
“While we advocate frequent check-ins with all your employees, it’s a good idea to check in a bit more frequently with remote workers (since you’ll bump into people in your office as a matter of course anyway),” write Fried and Hansson. Have a conversation over the phone or through a video chat at least every few months, but ideally once a month.
Give them permission to make decisions on their own.
Because remote workers aren’t typically putting in the standard 9-to-5 work hours and may be working in a different time zone, their schedules will likely not align perfectly with yours. “It’s no good twiddling your thumbs for three hours waiting for a manager to grant you permission, or hoping a coworker gets up soon so he or she can show you how something works,” write Fried and Hansson. This barrier can lead to a feeling of isolation and hurt their motivation.
These “roadblocks,” as the pair calls them, often don’t exist for your employees in the office, who can just walk over to your desk to discuss an issue they have run into. You can address this by empowering all of your employees to make certain decisions on their own. If you don’t trust your employee to make decisions without constantly going through layers of managerial review, say Fried and Hansson, then you hired the wrong person.
Accommodate them in meetings.
It’s important to keep your remote workers from fading into the background in teleconferences. Nonverbal cues are lost on them if they’re dialed in by phone, and it can be difficult for them to know when they can participate in the conversation. “Effective meeting protocol can help a lot,” says Ken Lahti, VP of product development and innovation at CEB. He not only manages a team of remote workers, but works from home himself.
Lahti says that it is a manager’s responsibility to take the time to introduce virtual attendees to those in the conference room and to set aside time for them specifically to ask questions.
Since remote workers aren’t in the office to chit-chat about their weekends or grab a quick lunch, it can be difficult for the team to get to know them on a personal level. “Care should be taken to avoid simply delegating and executing tasks without ‘humanising’ the work and team interactions,” says Lahti. Foster chatter among employees by avoiding being strictly business.
“Even the smallest things like opening a conversation or email with ‘how are you?’ can go a long way when interacting with remote employees,” says Doug Brown, academic program manager at Post University’s Malcolm Baldrige School of Business. Don’t let your relationship with them become rigid, and feel comfortable joking or making small talk.
Keep the door open.
To keep remote workers feeling included, “be proactive about keeping the lines of communication open,” says Holly Reisem Hanna, the founder of the website The Work at Home Woman.
Determine ways that you’d like your employees to interact with each other throughout the day, whether it’s through instant messaging, online meeting platforms like Campfire, collaboration tools like DeskAway, or video messaging tools like Google Hangouts.
Keep a workspace available for them in the office.
There may be times when your remote worker will be visiting the office, and the last thing you want to tell them is that they don’t have a place to sit. “Dedicating a readily accessible space for that employee that is always set up for them will allow them to not feel like an outsider but rather a valuable team player,” says Brown.
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