By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer & Co-Founder
Remote work is increasing in popularity, capitalizing on an independent workforce that wants to be trusted and own their work. But the rise of out-of-office work doesn’t mean employees are any less interested in camaraderie and collaboration. With remote options comes a new remote employee management challenge: making remote workers accountable and feeling accepted by colleagues.
A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 43% of the workforce telecommutes at least some of the time—a 4% increase since 2012—and that number is rising. Studies show remote workers are more productive and less likely to quit than in-office employees. Managers need to adapt their leadership styles to help virtual employees achieve their goals.
Any great leadership style starts and ends with communication. The blossoming office Internet of Things (IoT) makes it easy to stay connected with remote employees across town or across several time zones. Cloud storage options allows instant access to digital files and information regardless of time and day. No more waiting for files to be updated and emailed to co-workers for further revisions.
Collaborative information sharing isn’t the only IoT tool for connected communication. Voice and video meeting systems like Zoom and GoToMeeting provide personal connection between remote workers, their teammates, and managers. A Forbes/Zoom study found that half of executives surveyed found video conferencing improves understanding of information and issues. Among high-growth companies, 73% of leaders agreed that virtual connectivity increases communication quality.
But beware of over-communicating with remote employees. Just because you don’t physically see someone doesn’t mean following up on every task via phone, email, and IM is acceptable. A Harvard Business Review article calls this “digital dominance, a relentless and uncomfortable form of harassment.” Many companies create remote communication norms that use acronyms (NNTR for no need to respond) to streamline messaging and reduce unnecessary back and forth.
Create a virtual water cooler
Video conferences aren’t just for meetings. Some offices host a continuous video livestream to create links between offices in different cities. SpaceIQ has a portal between its Mountain View, Calif., and Salt Lake City, Utah, workplaces. These “virtual water coolers” provide a channel for remote workers to engage in idle chatter, share ideas, or simply say “Hi!” to colleagues. If a rolling live feed isn’t workable, carve out time for “online social hours” using a tool like Zoom. Remote workers connect via a webcam and join peers to talk about family, the latest movie, or what’s happening in the world. To keep things equitable, rotate connection times between time zones. While the cameras are off, encourage employees to use tools like Slack channels to stay in touch.
Not just email, but real mail
Someone in the office celebrating a birthday? There’s no slice of cake for remote workers. Did an off-site employee land a huge account? They won’t hear an office-wide round of applause. Video conferencing is one way to make those connections, but you can’t shove birthday cake through the Internet. Or can you?
There’s nothing stopping a great manager from using delivery services to send a birthday cake or present to a remote employee’s home. Coordinate the delivery with a video celebration to make the most of the moment.
In addition to a “Happy Birthday!” singalong, studies show regularly recognizing a person’s achievements is a critical component of team building and employee engagement. Sending remote employees real mail—even a handwritten note—goes a long way in reinforcing a person’s worth to the company.
SpaceIQ makes an effort to bring all of its employees together twice a year for team-building exercises, financial updates, and product overviews. It’s a cost well worth the connection it creates between team members who may only engage through email or chat. We also hold a quarterly “Gong Ceremony” via our portal to celebrate new business wins.
Ultimately, the way to make remote employees accountable and accepted is to treat them as you would any other worker. However, the steps you need to ensure they’re treated the same requires consistent oversight, scheduling, and personal diligence. The extra effort can result in improved productivity and happy employees.
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Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash