Working remotely is here to stay, with employees and employers alike seeing the benefits. However, scheduling and self-management does come with its own hangups. Remote workers are expected to self-motivate and produce the work without those inherent regulations that an office or an in-person team brings, and sometimes their lack of physical presence to the manager can make attention on their personal needs fall to the wayside.
But try to consider the relationship between remote worker and employer as a long-distance relationship, so to speak. It relies on good communication, openness, and tech to keep everyone connected and productive.
How Remote Workers Can Feel Part of the Team
Physically removed from the team, remote workers can be at a disadvantage, especially because you’re not there to experience all of the natural connections that happen in a traditional office’s day-to-day, from small talk to lunch breaks. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Here are a few ways that remote workers can integrate themselves with the team from afar.
1. Identify Your Personal Needs as a Worker
This might sound like a no-brainer, but as a remote worker you have more flexibility to set up your ideal work environment and workday. First, identify what works best for you — Do you like having regular check-ins? Do you prefer speaking over Skype calls? Do you prefer more laissez-faire management? — and articulate that to your manager or team. This will help them determine the best ways to communicate with you over quick questions or big asks.
2. Let Them Know When You’re Online
If the team is juggling different time zones or if you’re more of a night owl, make your team aware. While one of the perks of remote working may be having a fluid schedule, giving a general idea of when you’re online can help set teams at ease (which is even more helpful during in the current environment). This way, your coworkers become familiar with when you’re working and available to answer off-the-cuff needs or respond to emails. Letting your teams know when you’ll be online also allows for connection opportunities. When you’re remote, any socialization opportunity is valuable (even the virtual ones!).
3. Proactively Communicate
This goes for big group meetings or even just greeting one another on the Slack channel: speak up first or ask a coworker how their weekend was. It’s much easier to get to know your team and assert yourself when you’re physically nearby, so as a remote colleague, you might have to put in this extra effort to bridge that disadvantage. Don’t shy away from asking professional questions, or even asking a coworker if they’ve seen any good movies lately. Asking about your colleagues' lives and discussing non-work topics can promote a sense of community and help employees avoid feelings of isolation.
4. Offer to Meet Up
It might be obvious, but let teammates know when you’re available and offer to meet up over Skype, Slack, or FaceTime, even if it’s just for an at-home happy hour or coffee. While in-person meetups might be difficult as a remote team, virtual hangouts are a valuable alternative. Social niceties might not let a coworker assume that you’d be willing to meet up this way, so try suggesting it when appropriate.
How Employers Can Support Their Remote Team
Today’s near-necessity to work from home has pushed remote operations into the spotlight. Even without that push, the rise of remote work and the trend of in-house and remote teams for many companies have led to employers finding new ways to manage and support remote employees. Consider a few of these tactics when leading your remote team.
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1. Get Good Tech
Whether it’s Slack, Google Hangouts, or Skype, the best way to incorporate all members of the team is through one network. This gives all team members a virtual water cooler to communicate organically and in real-time, whether it’s making decisions about that email campaign or seeing if anyone binged the latest Netflix series already. If you have a team of remote and in-house workers, make sure you have the proper setup for conference meetings too. As one partial remote and in-house team realized, people in the room during meetings had a much easier time knowing when to speak up or add input when they could see the people taking part.
Good tech tools also give companies that aren't traditionally remote an opportunity to test the effectiveness of their operations. If employees are able to perform well when working remotely, flexible work policies might be a consideration for the future.
2. Create Regular Check-Ins or Open Hours
Sometimes, those “quick questions” or niggling concerns any worker might come across in their day-to-day can be avoided on large group chats or even in email. Setting up office hours or recurring phone calls to check in can help build that relationship and give remote workers the free time to air any small grievances or ideas. It also helps the employer learn more about their remote teammates one-on-one and invites feedback.
If you opt to keep open hours, be sure to actively ask for check-ins and encourage the use of the open office hours, along with setting up one or two required check-ins in the year. You want your teammates to feel heard, and not all of the communication has to come from them. As noted earlier, proactive communication can go a long way in helping your employees and colleagues feel less isolated when working at home away from the social environment of the office.
3. Proactively Keep Everyone on the Same Page
Establish processes to disseminate decisions. It’s easy to let updates fall to the wayside when relaying it to your remote team members, especially when they’re not physically there as you work through it. Creating recurring team updates, stand-up meetings, or even creating checklists for who handles what can keep everyone on track despite all the current distractions.
4. Build Team Bonding Occasions
There are so many different ways you can bring the team together, even when you’re physically separated. Go big and plan a retreat for your remote employees to get some quality face time. If that’s not in the budget, you can attempt a book club meeting over Skype, or hold a virtual happy hour. Try holding a web-based Show & Tell where they can use interesting items from around their homes to prompt discussion and a few laughs. A laid-back occasion is sometimes what you need to encourage others to chat and learn about one another. It’s often those moments that forge bonds, develop personal investment into your team’s work and goals, and uncover the strength within your teams.
Georgette Eva is the Community & Events Manager of Croissant, the app that gives access to coworking spaces on demand and makes the world your office. She and her team work remotely, exploring coworking spaces and new cities, but they’ll come together to cowork in New York or have a book club meeting over Skype.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.