Engaging Remote Employees
I’m going to start with what could be viewed as a controversial statement, but in my heart, I believe that you must be a Type A personality to make working remotely a positive experience for both you and the employer. This Healthline article describes Type As as “goal-oriented, determined, impatient and horrified by wasting time,” traits that I believe make driven individuals like me ideally suited to the requirements of working remotely. At the same time, Type As can be anxious, competitive and controlling. Managing any remote employee, but particularly the Type A, requires consistent communication and involvement. How do you effectively engage these far-away workers?
As a Type A personality, I don’t consider hearing “Shawna, are you there?” every five minutes during a staff meeting an effective method for keeping me engaged. Proper equipment that allows the team to see each other and allows the remote employee to read the room and look for breaks in conversation that allow them to actively participate in the conversation in real-time is critical.
Meeting just for the sake of being able to claim you’ve “touched base” with the remote employee doesn’t cut it either. It makes remote employees feel the only thing that really mattered was confirming they were at their desks; it doesn’t necessarily bring anything of value to them as an employee, and does not help them perform at a higher level for your company.
Remote employees are often high performers who work even harder from their remote location in an effort to continually prove their worth to the company. They often start early and work late. Yes, they may throw in a load of laundry at some point during the day or they may briefly hop on Facebook for socialization, but these are simply brief moments. How much time is lost over the course a day in an office with water cooler gossip and roaming from office to office to chat? A study I read recently stated that 2% of employees waste 5 or more hours per day, 2% waste 4 hours per day, 6% waste 3 hours each day and 16% stated that they waste roughly 2 hours each day! The majority of those surveyed stated they waste between 30 minutes and 1 hour per day. In fairness to the employees, some stated the biggest time wastes were dealing with pointless meetings and conference calls or a boss that simply cannot be pleased. In my opinion, remote employees are so grateful to have the opportunity to throw in that load of laundry during the day that they’re especially conscientious about their time.
Keeping an engaged remote workforce starts and ends with communication. Ensuring that all employees, whether onsite or remote, are aware of what is going on with projects they work on is critical. When you are working diligently on a project or initiative, only to find out that someone in the office made a decision affecting that project and neglected to communicate that decision, it creates feelings of resentment and a sense of not being valued. This is true of any employee but feels particularly isolating to someone already "left out" by distance. If a meeting occurs within the office regarding a project a remote employee is working on, that employee must be part of the conversation. Discussions focused on a remote employee’s work that don't include that person are detrimental to teamwork. Make it a point to say something like, “That’s a great idea. Let’s get Shawna on the phone to discuss the possibility right away.” Stop the discussion until the remote employee is available. Simply rehashing what you have decided or what someone else thinks about a remote employee’s project leaves them feeling vulnerable. Ideally, establish a regular communication schedule and save project discussions for that time.
Simple things like adding photos to internal emails can be incredibly helpful to making the remote employee feel as though they know their coworkers. I personally find it incredibly helpful to already know what someone looks like prior to going into the office; it makes meeting people face-to-face for the first time much easier. When you know what your fellow employees look like, walking into the office can be fun and exciting. “Hey Sally, we work together all the time, great to see you in person.”
In addition to what we have already discussed, let’s not forget the personal touch. Get to know your employees. Maybe during onboarding, offer an optional questionnaire that asks someone to share basic information - things like favorite sports team, favorite candy, hobby, birthday, anniversary. This allows you to acknowledge them for a job well done with something as easy as a thank you card with their favorite candy bar inside. Perhaps a "care package" of home office supplies. Often, just like in life, it is the simple gestures that mean the most.
My best advice for engaging remote employees is to give them real assignments and responsibilities and to acknowledge that in this day in age it is possible to do almost all jobs from a remote location. Do not limit their ability to grow as an employee and as a leader. Communicate with them openly and reliably. This will give us Type A’s the incentive needed to continue kicking butt from our remote location.