- Remote work is here to stay, but employees who work out of the office often struggle with issues like miscommunication, loneliness, and work-life balance.
- You can help your remote employees overcome these challenges by creating a responsive culture, including them in organizational events, and encouraging personal growth and productivity.
Now that 4.7 million Americans work remotely for at least half of the week, office spaces aren’t as full as they once were. Desks sit uncluttered and conference rooms rest undisturbed. These spaces may be quieter, but the message they send is loud and clear: remote work is quickly becoming the new norm.
If you belong to the 45% of US companies that already offer remote work options, you probably know that both employees and employers benefit from these arrangements. Remote employees can set flexible schedules, travel the world, and save money, while employers can gain increased productivity, lower labor costs, and higher retention rates.
However, remote work also poses a new set of challenges, including miscommunication and isolation. Introduce the following strategies to help remote employees overcome these obstacles and feel valued by your organization.
1. Use Multiple Platforms for Effective Communication
For remote employees, effective communication can be difficult. Different time zones, unreliable Wi-Fi, and back-and-forth responses can quickly muddle project objectives and disrupt workflow. Lack of body language and tone can also make it hard to interpret emails and instant messages.
Provide multiple communication platforms so employees can choose the channel that best fits their situation. Emails, for instance, are best for scheduling meetings and sharing files, while instant messages are well-suited for collaboration and fun asides between team members. Video calls work especially well for remote workers and give them a chance to ask complex questions and discuss minute project details face-to-face with their manager and teammates.
2. Create a Culture of Responsiveness
Remote workers can’t walk over to someone’s desk to ask a question. They have to wait for someone to type out a response or hop on a call, and in an office full of distractions, these tasks can be easily forgotten. When something is time-sensitive, delayed responses can stall workflow and productivity.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, develop regular communication schedules such as weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and remote employees. This gives employees guaranteed time to ask questions and receive responses in real time. Outside scheduled meetings, maintain a culture of responsiveness that encourages coworkers to reply to each other quickly.
3. Introduce Digital Team-Building Activities
84% of remote employees work from home, so they don’t have many opportunities for socialization during the day. Without the lunch conversations and inside jokes they’d have at the office, remote workers can feel isolated, lonely, and even distrustful of their coworkers.
You can reduce these worries by helping remote employees build a social network. Activities like virtual coffee breaks let employees grab a warm drink and chat with each other about their lives outside of work. The fully remote company Gitlab even uses a bot called Donut to pair random coworkers with each other for casual video calls. For those employees who may shy away from such direct interactions, create company message groups for shared interests in books, music, or pets.
4. Organize In-Person Meet-Ups
While online conversations are a great starting point, they may not be enough for remote workers who crave real, face-to-face interactions. If you have remote employees who work in the same city or region, organize optional in-person meetings for these individuals to grab lunch or work together for the day. If it’s within your budget, you can also bring remote workers to the office or schedule a retreat.
5. Celebrate Special Events
Remote workers may feel especially lonely during birthdays, anniversaries, and other office celebrations. If you’re getting pizza or some other snack for your in-house employees, deliver a treat to your remote workers so they can join in, too. Sending other physical items (like birthday cards and company swag) is another great way to “celebrate” with them.
6. Emphasize Data Security
Remote employees can be more susceptible to data security threats than on-site employees, especially if they’re connecting to public networks in coworking spaces or cafes. Keep your remote employees working smoothly (and safely) with data security policies and security awareness training. If your organization issues laptops, make sure your employees use these machines for work and not their personal devices (which may be less secure). You should also work with your IT department to obtain a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which will protect your remote employees even if they’re connected to a public network.
7. Encourage Work Environment Changes
It can be hard for remote employees to resist the kitchen cupboards lined with snacks and the sink filled with dishes to be washed. Encourage your remote employees to work from coffee shops or coworking spaces if they feel their concentration wavering. Studies actually show that people are more productive in coffee shops and, whether that’s due to the ambient noise or proximity of other people around them, the change of environment can boost their productivity and decrease distractions. Offering small stipends for coworking space fees or a weekly coffee can further incentivize employees to make a change.
8. Prioritize Work-Life Balance
Unplugging after the work day is the biggest challenge remote workers face. Those who live and work in the same location may feel as though they’re always “on call” and struggle to find a healthy work-life balance.
Urge employees to define a routine that will keep them offline once the work day is over. Remote employees may choose to turn off notifications in the evening or check their emails only during certain hours. They can also update their email signatures or company profiles with their work hours and time zone so everyone knows when they’re “online.”
9. Build Trust
In some offices, working from home is synonymous with barely working. While this can be true, most remote workers find this misconception frustrating. After all, they’re working just as much as on-site employees (and they may even be more productive, too). Still, remote employees are often given busywork or less critical roles. Combined with the fact that they’re out of sight and thus out of mind, remote workers usually aren’t considered for promotions or leadership roles.
Give remote employees the same consideration for promotions and challenging assignments. Set clear expectations, outline key criteria on performance evaluations, and build trust. If someone has proven themselves to be a reliable, skilled worker, the difficulty of their projects and chance for promotion shouldn’t depend on whether or not they work remotely.
When you have a remote workforce, it can be difficult to keep track of everyone. No matter where your employees are, SentricHR makes it easy to manage the many changes that accompany a remote lifestyle. From easy address updates to paperless pay stubs, schedule a demo to learn more about how you can support remote employees with SentricHR.