This is a guest post by Dani Fankhauser, Director of Content at Reflektive, a leader in providing innovative, real-time performance management solutions for HR leaders and their agile organizations.
I remember playing tag on the grassy field behind my grade school, feeling like hours had passed and nobody had picked me to be “it.” Maybe you have a similar story, either from childhood, or interactions with your team during a meeting earlier today.
When it comes to our employees, obviously we want them to feel included at work. But with the rise of the remote workforce, this becomes a bigger challenge.
Companies are hiring remote workers to fulfill a high-priority talent need that’s not available locally, or to accommodate top talent that requires a flexible work schedule. Sometimes just one person on a team is remote, but increasingly, entire companies are choosing to allow employees to work from anywhere.
Gallup found that 37% of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted, and the average worker telecommutes two days per week. In addition, 43% of U.S. employees work remotely at least part of the time. A remote workforce can mean getting the best talent, but does it pay off?
Another study found organizations with engaged employees outperform those with low employee engagement by 202%. They typically have 40% lower turnover, 21% improved
productivity, and 22% higher profitability. Organizations need to ask whether engagement is consistent as they grow and their workforce spreads worldwide, or if remote employees will suffer from exclusion, driving down their engagement and productivity.
The effects of social rejection are heavily studied in the neuroscience field. A game called Cyberball is used to create a situation in which one person feels rejected. A group of subjects begin passing a ball from person to person through a web interface, but after a few rounds, one person is excluded. But, this person doesn’t know it was planned.
What happens? As it turns out, an EEG study found subjects’ brains reacted with anger or sadness in this situation. Tossing a ball in an online game is not so different than tossing ideas around in a meeting — on a video call or in person. The takeaway for businesses focused on teamwork and collaboration is clear.
In addition, studies show the emotional feeling of pain from social exclusion overlaps with physical pain, such as stubbing your toe. The same area of the brain processes these different kinds of pain.
Needless to say, employees can’t do their best work in these conditions.
Whether you’re looking to re-engage your secondary offices or better support work-from-home individuals and teams, check out the tips below.
Get Your Face Time
One-on-ones are key to good management. It’s easy for managers to feel they can do these meetings less regularly when a direct report is not located in the office, but the opposite is true. Finding ways to connect are more important. Meeting schedules should match what is given to other employees on the team, otherwise, the remote employee will feel that stubbed-toe social exclusion you want to avoid.
When should you use video versus a phone call? Nonverbal communication plays an important part in ensuring you are understood. Any constructive feedback or bad news should be delivered via video. And, be sure it is timely — you don’t want your remote employee to be the last to know about a leadership team exit that impacts her work directly.
Deliver Ongoing Feedback and Recognition
Constructive feedback can be so hard to give that many managers will skip it completely, especially when it requires a video call and conference room to deliver. The problem is, this type of feedback is crucial to helping employees develop. Your remote employees don’t want to be stuck in a career rut, and it does not help the company to leave them at the same level.
A counterintuitive key to good constructive feedback is actually giving recognition generously and often. The ideal ratio should be 7:1 recognition to feedback. Positive recognition also goes a long way in affirming good behaviors and can improve performance on its own. Your employees get to improve their skills, and the company gets better work.
For employees who aren’t sitting in the same room, recognition that is logged in a company portal can help employees connect with each other and learn from each other. When employees see who is doing good work and what the company values in success, they are better able to collaborate.
If you’ve ever had a friend who moved away, you know it takes effort to keep the friendship alive. No matter how well you connected when hanging out was easy and casual, you need to invest time and effort to maintain your connection.
When you first hire a remote team member, make the case to travel for an in-person orientation. Whether you invite the team member to your main office or you visit them in their town is up to your company’s culture. This face-to-face meeting can create a foundation for a strong connection. The trust you can establish by talking over hobbies, fears, and aspirations will put you on the best track to openly talk about sensitive topics later on.
Another way to maintain a relationship is through tangible objects of appreciation. This might be making sure a company notebook, pen, or jacket is sent to a remote employee. On birthdays and work anniversaries, sending flowers or a card can help employees feel appreciated. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone. You’re part of the team.
Work relationships follow the same rules as personal relationships. That extra effort goes a long way in making your employees feel included, no matter what part of the city or globe they do their work.
Remote work means fewer casual conversations. One question I find myself asking colleagues in the hall between meetings is, “What’s the status of XYZ project?” The result is a feeling of being on track and each person carrying their own weight. Formal meetings are used for higher-impact work.
When you haven’t spoken with a teammate or supervisor for a week, the least productive use of your time is to run through status updates. Luckily, technology can take care of the status updates for you. A tool like Asana for project management can log due dates and project assignments, and notify everyone once the project is completed. With a tool for OKRs or another goal format, you can track progress by a percentage or dollar amount.
These tools ensure your conversations are exactly that – a conversation.
Instant messaging applications enable remote workers to have casual conversations that don’t warrant an email thread. This can help employees share ideas, as collaboration, usually across departments, is key to innovation.
Video conferencing should be used for any all-company or all-department meeting. Also, ensure the meeting is recorded or offered at a time that works for every time zone where employees are represented. Remote employees can feel like they’re the last to hear about company news, which contributes to disengagement.
One last tip is over-communication. As mentioned, non-verbal cues dominate our in-person communication and are largely lost in remote conversations. Someone might reply “yes” to whether they understood a direction, but when the project is completed, it’s clear they missed something. Documenting conversations via email or a feedback tool ensures both parties are hearing the same thing. Ultimately, it benefits everyone.
Your commitment to an engaged workforce shouldn’t fall short of remote employees. Get the right tools and teach your managers how to connect with their remote team. You’ve already identified the best talent in your remote workforce, and with these tips, you’ll find your remote employees can be among your most productive and happy.
Dani Fankhauser is head of content at Reflektive, where she creates resources to help HR leaders transform performance management and help people reach their potential. Her writing has appeared in Fortune, The Billfold, Mashable, PopSugar, and NY Mag’s The Cut.