Remote work is becoming a staple perk in a growing number of U.S. companies. It lets employees enjoy a better work-life balance and gives freelancers a more stable way of earning income. Despite these benefits, telecommuting workers often feel left out by their office-based colleagues. Solving these issues, however, may be as simple as taking your remote workers to lunch and checking up on them from time to time or giving them access to reliable and effective ways to communicate with employees in the office.

Remote Work is More Prevalent Than Ever

The rise of faster and more reliable internet connections as well as the development of collaboration apps in the past few years have made a strong case for the remote worker. Over 62% of companies in the U.S. allow telecommuting, based on the 2017 employee benefits report by the Society for Human Resource Management.

The authors also found that part-time remote work is on the rise, as over 35% of companies provided telecommuting work for those in the gig economy. The researchers gathered data from over 3,227 HR professionals across the U.S. through an online survey.

Over 62% of companies in the U.S. allow telecommuting

More and more people are also turning to freelance work. The latest “Freelancing in America” study by remote working solutions firm Upwork showed that the number of freelance workers in the U.S. reached 56.7 million in 2017, a 3.7 million jump since 2014. The report found that 35% of people took a freelance job at least once in 2017. A lot of these people are also happy with doing remote work, according to the results. Around 61% of these workers say that they’re taking these gigs by choice.  And 51% of them claim they don’t want to switch to a traditional office job, even if it offers more money.

Remote Employees are Productive but Isolated

isolated-remote-employee

People may be more productive when they work remotely, according to a two-year study called “Does Working From Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment.” The paper, published in the Oxford Academic’s Quarterly Journal of Economics and Stanford Graduate School of Business’ study repository, found that people who worked from home submitted 13% more output than they did when they had to work in the office.

Apart from the boost in productivity, employees who telecommuted took fewer days off, shorter breaks, and fewer sick leaves. There was also a 50% decrease in employee attrition among those who worked remotely.

Despite the freedom and better work-life balance that remote work gives, it has its downside when it comes to employee engagement. All the employees in the two-year study went back to working in their regular offices because they felt that they were too isolated at home.

Telecommuting may also be a source of conflict between employees. According to a 2017 survey by leadership training firm VitalSmarts, remote employees feel like they’re being left out by their in-house coworkers. It’s also harder for remote workers to resolve these conflicts. About 84% of them say that these issues tend to drag on for days before they’re appropriately addressed. These types of problems aren’t just personal. The respondents said that the stress of feeling left out negatively affects their morale and productivity.

Engaging with Remote Employees: How to Make Them Feel like Part of a Team

In an article in Harvard Business Review discussing this study, the authors said that managers should fix these issues by fostering habits that give employees feelings of connection, trust, and shared goals. Here’s how you can enforce these practices with both your remote and in-house workers.

Hold Regular Brainstorm Sessions

brainstorming-remote-employees

One of the best ways to touch base with your employees about their workload is by holding a brainstorm session. Invite both your remote and office-based staff to a video or voice conference and have them talk about the tasks they’re doing for the day. Make sure your office is equipped with a hosted PBX service so you can all hear each other loud and clear, encouraging a bit of chatter in between updates. Not only will this help formulate meaningful ideas and solutions for work, but it will also give your employees a chance to talk in a more personal way than communicating via email and instant messaging.

Have one person present as many ideas as they can regarding their tasks. After that, each person in the room can build on them by providing suggestions.

One study called “Does Brainstorming Promote Cohesiveness? How the Rules of Brainstorming Mirror Symbolic Convergence” tested 151 participants in 41 groups about their perceptions of building on the ideas of other people, sharing impractical ideas, not providing feedback, and putting out as many ideas as possible when brainstorming. The researchers also asked the respondents if their group had a cohesive discussion. It was found that this method of brainstorming helps teams come up with a solid plan they can all get behind because everyone contributed to it.

They also added that because this technique encourages collaboration and cohesiveness, it may reduce employee turnover and renew a worker’s sense of commitment to the team.

Get Together More Often

employee-get-together

If your remote employees are working full-time outside of the office, they don’t get to experience events like lunches out with the team or department. Occasions, where in-person interaction is encouraged, are especially important if you have young members joining your team remotely. The fact of the matter is that most freelancers are young and while they have all the energy in the world, they’re also prone to feelings of loneliness. According to the latest Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, the study measured the loneliness scores of over 20,000 American adults aged 18 years and older using the UCLA Loneliness Scale.

Occasions where in-person interaction is encouraged are especially important if you have young members joining your team remotely

The researchers found that the Millenial and Gen Z population are the loneliest among the other generations, with loneliness scores of 49.3 and 45.3, respectively. This is followed by Gen X (45.1), Baby Boomers (42.4), and the “Greatest Generation” (38.6). The study also showed that people who engaged in regular face-to-face interactions with other people exhibited lower loneliness scores.

Have them visit the workplace from time-to-time. Get them acquainted with the people they only used to interact with through email. Take them to your favorite places near the office to get food or coffee. When the day is over, go for a round of drinks and talk about anything but work.

You can also rent a function room and have a remote worker appreciation event, like what content management giant WordPress does. Its software development arm holds annual “grand meetups” for remote workers and office-based employees to socialize and share ideas.

Events like these are perfect for recognizing loyal employees and top performers. Treat it like any other employee appreciation day, with live performances, good food, and free-flowing drinks and conversation. Make the occasion as social as possible. Nobody should ever feel like they aren’t part of the team just because they aren’t in the office day in and day out.

If you don’t have the budget to fly your remote employees in for face-to-face events, assign a day where you can have a video conference dedicated to sharing thoughts and ideas that don’t directly involve the status of projects. Software firm Help Scout does this well with weekly video updates about their product’s new features, birthdays, and other types of information you’d typically hear at a company-wide gathering. The firm also does randomly-paired video calls for remote workers to talk with each other about their thoughts and ideas.

While you want to keep the conversation free-flowing for your video conference, you also need to think of at least one relevant topic to discuss to start the back and forth. If you’re not sure what to talk about, asking about their week is always a good place to start.

Give Them All The Training They Need

employee-training

Learning and development are a few of the biggest factors that impact employee engagement. The Society for Human Resource Management Foundation (SHRMF), surveyed over 3,000 full-time employees about workplace practices that keep them engaged in their job. The study stated that engaged employees care more about their work and feel like their employer values them. However, employees often miss out on company training sessions.

Though over 87% of remote workers say that they receive regular training from their employers, more than half of them also say they want to receive more training. The report added that half of the respondents who asked for more training want to take online courses. This is followed by people who want to use their mobile phone for training sessions (22%), and employees who wish to learn through webinars (13%).

Over 87% of remote workers say that they receive regular training from their employers, more than half of them also say they want to receive more training

To help your remote workers advance their careers, partner with an online course provider or a university to give your employees online learning tools. If you’re looking to do a webinar, draft your training materials and send them to those who will attend.

Provide a test after the webinar to make sure they know how to apply what they’ve just learned. It also helps to compile relevant studies and other learning materials you found online and send them to your team. You’ll win when you train your remote workers. Apart from the increased engagement, you’ll also get better quality work because they learn more with every session.

Provide Useful Feedback

video-call-performance-review

Many offices give their employees regular in-person feedback. SHRM’s employee engagement report found that regular performance reviews are the most common activities that managers use to engage their employees. It’s a bit difficult, however, to coach remote workers. It lacks the “in-person” element, where you can see their expressions and body language.

Regular performance reviews and feedback sessions are the most common activities that managers use to engage their employees

If you’ve been sending your remote workers feedback exclusively through email, they may have a hard time interpreting what you said. After all, it is hard to gauge tone when things are written out especially when constructive criticism is being communicated. A way to avoid any miscommunication is to create an effective feedback process for your remote employees that isn’t too far off from what you do with in-office employees.

1. Set a Schedule for Feedback Sessions

First, you need to build a fixed schedule for feedback sessions. Ask your employee what time and date is comfortable for them. Once you have a set calendar for sessions, come up with a fixed set of questions to ask them.

2. Know What Questions to Ask

Performance management solutions provider Impraise cited short but effective feedback questions in their article about creating a feedback culture for remote workers. It includes asking the employee what part of the work they’re excited about, what part of it they’re worried about, what you can do better to help them with their workload, and what they think they can do to improve their output.

3. Give Your Feedback on a Video Call

  • On the day of the session do a video call with the employee. If your employee cannot do a video call, reschedule for a time that they can take part in the session face to face.
  • Start on a positive note by praising them for their victories, no matter how small they are, then moving on to the more constructive criticism.
  • After you give your feedback, ask the four questions recommended above.
  • Give them the floor to air any concerns or recommendations they have regarding work.

Feedback sessions aren’t always easy, but they provide you and your employees better insight on how to handle remote work.

As remote work continues to rise as a viable option for employers, companies need to formulate new strategies to address problems like lack of belongingness among remote employees. All of the solutions mentioned here are about bridging the distance between them and the office by continually reaching out through virtual and physical means.

Brainstorming helps remote employees feel they’re a part of the company through receiving help from their coworkers. Getting together builds friendship and grows networks. Training and feedback sessions remind them that your company cares about the advancement of their career. When you build up your remote workers and make them feel like they’re part of a team, your company has no way to go but up. As the legendary Phil Jackson once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

Get Effective Communication Solutions

Keeping your remote workers engaged begins with a reliable communication system. You won’t be able to communicate effectively with them if your phone lines are unstable and unable to support voice or video conferencing. Here at Lingo, we provide quality business phone plans that have affordable long distance calling, unlimited local calling, and unlimited local toll calling. Our extensive and reliable network is backed by our industry-leading partners like Broadsoft and Cisco. We proudly serve small-to-med businesses across the U.S.

Contact us today to find the best phone plan for your business.