The benefits of telecommuting are obvious—increased employee productivity, reduced costs, more flexibility, to name a few. In fact, a recent study conducted by Stanford University found that people who work full time from home are 13 percent more efficient than those who don’t.
However, one of the major drawbacks of telecommuting is that remote workers miss out on daily interactions in the office, which often results in employees feeling isolated and disconnected from the team and company as a whole. So how can you help your remote workers feel empowered and fully part of the team and company even though they’re not physically present?
Here are three tips to help make your remote workers feel included:
1. Don’t be Afraid of Video
Think about your last conference call—chances are you and everyone else were only half listening; you were also checking your email, Twitter or busy working on another project. But with video, this half-hearted engagement isn’t possible. The two-way view of video forces all participants to be much more immersed and engaged in the conversation.
“Phone conferences allow employees to slack off in appearance, how much they prepare and even how much they participate,” said Luis Ramirez, Director of Sales for Latin America and Caribbean at InterCall and who remotely manages everyone on his team. “This is one reason I use video as my primary communication tool. It forces team members to look presentable, be at their desk and prepared for each meeting because their boss and/or client is looking directly at them. They’re not able to get away with common mishaps that can occur with regular conference calls,” said Ramirez.
2. Get Personal
Yes, technology allows for team members to collaborate more effectively and personally, but it’s still not quite the same as connecting with someone in-person. The lack of personal interaction between colleagues is still one of the major barriers to making remote employees feel like they’re part of the team.
This is why it’s important that managers take the time to get to know their team members. It can’t always be about business, no matter how crazy things get. Knowing more about who’s on the other side of the screen allows you to gain context about who they are and be able to relate to them on topics outside of work.
Take the first few minutes of every meeting to ask how everyone’s doing or how a recent vacation was. While the off-topic parts of meetings may seem irrelevant or a waste of time, they’re actually one of the biggest contributors to building trust and more personal relationships.
“I start every meeting I have with my sales reps getting caught up on what’s going on with them outside of the office,” said Ramirez. “Whether it’s sharing a story from a recent vacation I took or quickly hearing how their newborn is doing, even just a few minutes of chit-chat at the start of every meeting allows me get to know my staff on a more personal level – something that would most likely naturally happen if we worked in the same office.”
3. Stay Focused on the Big Picture
Helping remote employees understand their role and impact within the organization is a key part in making them feel connected to the company. As the manager, it’s your responsibility to help virtual employees understand the company’s and/or project’s end goal and how each employee fits into the plan.
An employee who’s working from home or at an office in another country doesn’t have the opportunity to stop by and talk about these things, so managers have to be much more focused on what they share, how they communicate and when they do it.
“One way I facilitate this thinking with employees is being sure to involve them in the decision making process during each step of a project,” said Ramirez. “Simply asking someone to complete a list of tasks without explaining why or giving them any say into what tasks actually need completed in order to reach the next benchmark will only leave employees wondering where they stand and how they’re contributing. Be sure to give them some power and control over their projects. It’ll not only help them feel included, but it will also motivate them to complete their projects with flying colors.”
Do you manage a team of remote employees? What has been the best way you’ve found to keep them engaged and connected?