We live in an increasingly globalized world, and it’s changing the way we work. Where businesses used to be confined to hiring from their local area, they now have access to talent from Australia to Zambia and virtually anywhere in between.
Entire projects, entire teams, or entire companies, may operate through telecommuting and work entirely online. Eliminating travel time, letting people work in a comfortable home environment, and even letting them choose their own hours can delight staff, and allow them to achieve a work-life balance.
However, there’s one major problem that remote workers face: isolation.
If your employees are scattered all over the world, they’re likely to be lacking in social interaction. In a good workplace environment, your coworkers are more than just fellow employees; you’re a “team”. Workers who feel a sense of belonging and engagement are much more likely to love what they do, and to work harder. While many office workers dream of working from home, many telecommuters miss the feeling of connection that they get from being in an office.
You may have heard of a psychological theory called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
Maslow theorizes that socializing with others is a fundamental human need. Self-esteem and self-actualization are also closely linked with human contact; the serotonin rush that comes with being told that you’re doing a good job is much more meaningful when there’s a face attached to that feedback.
In short, keep people hunched over a computer alone for months or even years on end, and they’re not going to be happy campers.
So, what can we do about it?
1. Build a Community
Make your remote staff feel like part of your company’s community, and ensure that they get to know each other and the non-remote staff.
By building up company culture, and proactively involving remote workers, you can help them to feel like they’re part of something bigger. Put staff profiles up on your company’s intranet, and include remote workers in the profiles. You could even consider using a service like Yammer to encourage team communication.
Many companies that hire freelance or remote workers use the company blog to keep remote workers interested and engaged.
They’ll publish profiles of workers on their blog, articles published by those workers, pictures from the cities that they live, and so on. It’s a great way to encourage your remote workers to put faces to their teammates’ names and get to know each other as people!
3. Facebook Groups
Start a Facebook chat group for the team, where people can bounce ideas off each other, and also get to know each other. Many project managers only use e-mail to communicate with their team, and in an entirely top-down way.
The result of that strategy is that the team members mean nothing more than a name and an e-mail address to each other. If you create a Facebook group, your team members may even send each other friend requests; nothing builds team engagement like seeing pictures of each other’s cats/children/lunch.
4. Recognize your remote workers’ achievements
Lack of recognition can be a major drawback to working from home: remote workers frequently complain of being passed over for promotions because nobody in the office knows who are or what they do.
Business News Daily suggests creating a system of virtual badges or rewards. One way to implement this to create profiles on the intranet for all staff, remote or otherwise, that show what badges/rewards they have achieved.
5. Give remote workers opportunities for growth – and encourage them to come into the office!
Let them know what room for growth there is in your company for remote workers, and also what potential there is to become an on-site worker in the future. Training opportunities that can be completed online are an ideal way to allow these workers to still make progress in their career while maintaining a telecommuting lifestyle, but also make sure that they are aware of training opportunities within the office if they live nearby.
If they’re doing the same task every day, and there are other telecommuting tasks that they could be doing, let them mix it up a bit so that they can reduce boredom and learn new skills.
Are there some tasks that are only being done on-site at present, that could be done by your telecommuting staff? Great managers and great companies are committed to nurturing their staff’s potential; this can be a bit more tricky with remote workers, but being a bit creative can really pay off in terms of engagement and staff retention. Who doesn’t want committed, highly skilled staff who love their work?
Also, if your staff is mostly located within the local area, you could offer part-telecommuting jobs. A 2014 Gallup poll found that staff who telecommuted less than 20% of the time were more engaged that the average on-site worker, but “active disengagement” with one’s company increased as this percentage increased, to the extent that staff working entirely from home “are nearly twice as likely to be actively disengaged (23%) compared with those who telecommute less than 20% of the time (12% actively disengaged)”.
So if you want happier workers, part-time telecommuting is a great way to achieve that, but if you can, bring them into the office at least sometimes. Isolated, miserable workers are a high price to pay, and face-time at the office is a great remedy.
You probably already have a strategy for engaging your on-site team, such as pizza nights, etc. Make sure that your remote staff are aware of these events and feel welcome. If your remote workers are simply too remote for this to be practical, you can still work on other ways that they can get to know each other. For example, having video meetings is a great way to brainstorm new ideas and make valuable new connections.
You could dedicate an initial meeting to introducing each other, and playing the usual games that you’d use in an office to promote collaborative teamwork. In future meetings, try to encourage staff to talk about subjects other than just the task at hand: if your team members know each other as people, they’ll naturally be more engaged with the team and with their work.
Building a team who love their work and who feel engaged with their fellow team members can sometimes be a challenge even when they’re sitting in the same office, but much more so when they rarely or never get any face-time with each other. However, taking the time to create a strategy for engaging your remote workers is a win-win; telecommuters who work in an environment that support their need for interaction and engagement will be happier, healthier, and far more productive.
Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com