Telework has become increasingly popular as a recruiting tactic given the positive impact it can have on an employee’s work-life balance. That shift means companies are focusing on how to best engage and communicate with remote employees. Specifically, the question for many is how do we set the stage for collaboration, creativity and decision making for all employees, including those who work remotely?
A 2016 Gallup poll showed that 43% of the workforce worked from home at least some of the time — an increase from 39% in 2012. Employees, particularly the millennial generation, embrace workplace flexibility. In a war-for-talent environment, companies that offer remote working as a perk gain an edge.
The Benefits of Remote Workers
Companies benefit from remote working policies, too, with the ability to hire the best candidate regardless of location. Although some managers might be concerned that their direct reports aren’t co-located, telecommuting employees are actually 13% more productive than those in the office, and companies that support remote working have 25% less turnover.
While many companies are benefitting from telework, some are regressing and retreating on their own remote policy trends. Recently, IBM, Aetna and Yahoo required telework employees to return to headquarters, citing the need to increase collaboration, innovation and agility. But sitting shoulder to shoulder in the same conference room doesn’t guarantee a dynamic culture.
The Truth About Telework
Remote employees want the same things on-site employees want: meaningful work, an opportunity to contribute, and to be included, appreciated and recognized. Overloaded with communication technologies, companies still struggle to create processes and behaviors that help remote employees feel inherently a part of the team.
And here’s the real issue — the “out of sight, out of mind” adage unfortunately applies too often to offsite employees. How often have you had an impromptu meeting with your team in the office that resulted in a change in project direction or priority. But oops. You forgot to include your remote employee in the meeting. You caught him up and apologized though, so it’s all good, right?
Perhaps employees’ lack of engagement, communication and collaboration isn’t so much an issue of where they work as it is an issue of how included they feel in the process. By addressing inclusion, location may no longer be a pain point.
Six Ways To Include Your Remote Employees
1. Get to know them
Get to know your remote employees and encourage onsite team members to do the same. In addition to regular project updates, have scheduled one-to-one meetings and performance development discussions. Communicate via video and keep remote workers updated on corporate and in-office news. Create time for informal conversation, much like you would have around the conference table at the end of a meeting or in the hallway during a coffee run.
2. Convenient meeting schedules
Schedule meetings at a convenient time for all, or rotate the time so one group or individual isn’t the one who always has the midnight conference call. Even with video conferencing, the ones on video may feel disconnected from the attendees in the room, so make a concerted effort to pause and solicit input from those in remote locations. Rotate participation in meetings — have remote employees present to the team.
3. Leverage technology
Use technology to establish informal communication. Collaborative software like Slack, a closed Facebook group, a group chat or other internal system provide an online water cooler spot. Encourage employees to follow your lead in using the system to keep in touch, get to know each other, share humanness and spark creativity.
4. Commit to projects
Commit to including remote employees in projects and decisions even when under tight deadlines. No more apologizing for excluding them after the fact. Make it a priority to get their participation at the time.
5. Include them in celebrations
Remember to include remote workers when it comes to celebrations. Whether it’s an employee milestone or the signing of a new client, keep remote employees in the loop. Although they may not be able to attend the celebratory event, Skype or FaceTime them and send them a special note or lunch treat as well.
6. Recognize contributions
Recognize your remote employees’ contributions. While you may give someone kudos in the break room in front of peers, you will need to intentionally find an opportunity to recognize a remote worker in front of their peers. Show them you care and make recognition an ongoing activity with an online recognition program that keeps everyone up to date on the entire team’s accomplishments.
If you want a culture where employees talk with each other, build ideas off of each other and are efficient at making decisions, you must establish trust, and feeling included is essential to that. By making a consistent effort to intentionally include all of your employees and ensure they feel included, you can create a collaborative environment that ultimately benefits all members of your team.
A version of post was originally published by the Forbes Communications Council