Suzanne Lucas

How to Engage Remote Workers

Remote work has changed the way corporate America functions. Work-at-home jobs are no longer left to the realm of stuffing envelopes and answering calls — everything from education to marketing to accounting can now happen at home. While employees love the flexibility remote work affords, a new study by the Harvard Business Review and Virgin Pulse found that remote employees are actually more disengaged and ready to leave their jobs.

And it’s not the only research that shows this. Another recent study found that:

  • The more friends you have at work, the longer you will stay with the company
  • Only 5 percent of remote workers, compared to 28 percent of people who never work remotely, see themselves staying at their company for the entire length of their career
  • Nearly half of workers believe that having more face time will help them build deeper relationships with their teams

With a third of employees working remotely at least part of the time, it’s OK to realize you have engagement issues — you’re far from alone. In fact, just knowing there is a problem can give you the push you need to tackle it. Here’s how.

Make Face Time a Reality

If everyone spends at least a little time in the office, then this might not be a problem, but if people are always at home, then building strong bonds can be difficult. Use video conferencing — even for informal chats — to help people get to know each other.
When you can physically see someone in front of you, it’s easier to form a relationship with them and understand their needs.

Build in Space for Off-Topic Discussions

One of the major concerns managers tend to have with remote work is maintaining productivity. After all, Netflix — or even doing laundry — starts to look like a pretty good distraction when no one is watching. However, work-from-home employees are actually more productive than their office counterparts. In other words, your telecommuting employees are working so hard they’re letting relationships with their team members fall by the wayside. A bit of small talk on the side or a dedicated channel for friendly chatter can help your employees build those relationships and stay engaged.

Check In Regularly

How would you act if your team were in the office with you? You’d say, “Hey, Jane, did you see ‘The Good Place’ last night?” or chime in with “Thanks for that report yesterday. The VP loved it!” Are you having those quick interactions via your instant messaging system? Probably not.

Nurturing these casual conversations begins when you set the tone and lead by example. This doesn’t mean becoming a micromanager. When your employees are productive, they don’t need you hovering. They do, however, need your feedback — especially positive feedback — and normal interactions.

Celebrate!

Even a small workforce has a lot of reasons to celebrate, from baby showers to pizza after a big project. Remote workers can get lost in the shuffle during these events. When it’s time to party, get everyone involved. Send remote workers a cupcake on their birthday. If you want people to feel like part of a team, then celebrate together as one.

Don’t Panic Over the Data

Yes, the research says that remote workers are far less likely to stay with a company for the rest of their lives. But before you start imagining your retention rates crumbling before your eyes, keep in mind that this doesn’t mean they’re scrolling through LinkedIn instead of finishing up that important report.

The reality is that very few people stay at one company for their entire careers, and you shouldn’t expect your employees to do so. Assume that everyone — including you — will move on at some point. Make your work environment as warm and friendly as possible, but don’t panic if your staff doesn’t want to say forever. Career shifts are normal, and those decisions don’t always hinge on you.

At the end of the day, keep the stakes in perspective. Remote employees might be more productive, but the isolation of remote work can negatively affect their well-being. In one Gallup study, the majority of engaged employees said their work had a positive effect on their physical and mental health. The majority of disengaged employees said it had a negative effect. While the actions you take to engage remote employees may be small, the impact of those actions can be significant.

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