With the release of OWL Labs' 2018 "Global State of Remote Work" report, the verdict on remote work became crystal clear: It's a majority player, not a sideline contributor. More than half of the companies surveyed allow remote working some or all of the time. Is it any wonder, then, that Google for Jobs has revamped its algorithm to label fully remote roles for employment seekers?

In this digital-first, talent-hungry landscape, remote work has edged its way into the mainstream. However, it is hardly without flaws and stumbling blocks, many of which keep some companies from successfully attracting remote employees. The businesses that figure out how to satisfy remote workers' needs will earn their place as industry leaders.

Engaging the Remote Workforce

Getting remote workers to sign employment contracts isn't a problem: Many appreciate the freedom and flexibility of a remote assignment. Yet keeping them in the fold can be problematic. Despite perks like wearing pajamas all day or sipping coffee from a backyard patio 3,000 miles from headquarters, remote workers can feel too, well, remote.=

Consequently, loneliness and isolation plague more than half of remote workers, according to the "Global Work Connectivity" study by Future Workplace. While Buffer reports that 90 percent of remote workers say they plan to keep it up, they are still more likely than other employees to leave an employer due to disengagement.

What makes connecting so difficult for remote workers? The answer goes beyond the obvious, which is distance, and falls into the category of managerial biases. I'm thinking particularly of the distance bias, which assigns importance to proximity and subconsciously influences managers to prioritize the workers who share their space.

There's no doubt that supervising team members who are not physically on hand can be challenging. Not only are they left out of daily sidebar or impromptu discussions, but their contributions may be inadvertently minimized. Plus, in-house celebrations and holiday traditions can put a wedge between on-site employees and those who aren't able to just pop in for a drink or a bite of birthday cake.

Despite these innate challenges, you can absolutely own the remote work movement. The key is to rethink your workplace culture to meet and exceed the needs of remote workers and their colleagues. Implement these four strategies to inspire engagement, regardless of location.

1. Hire based on comprehensive fit.

Not everyone makes a good remote worker, so if that's the role you're looking to fill, your screening process should weed out those who may function better in a more traditional setting. Remote workers should share your company's mission and vision. If your leaders put a strong emphasis on personal development, for instance, ask candidates what they have taught themselves recently. It's much more likely that they'll fit in if your cultural code makes sense to them.

While you're at it, go ahead and ask them what kind of work environment suits them best. These employees should understand the unique character of remote work, whether or not they have worked remotely before. For instance, remote employees must maintain excellent communications to ensure everyone knows what they are doing and when they are available. Naturally, you should supply them with the technology they need to be able to stay in touch appropriately.

2. Arrange a buddy system.

Knowing that loneliness affects so many remote employees, you should plan to stave it off before it begins. One way to do that is by partnering new remote workers with other colleagues. Set up a buddy system, which can double as an opportunity for mentoring.

It's tough enough for workers to make friends and establish relationships when they all work in the same location, let alone when everyone is scattered to the four winds. By assigning buddies ahead of time, you will encourage better give-and-take among all team members.

3. Make knowledge sharing a given.

Franchises have joined the remote work conversation by setting up portals and opportunities for franchisees to talk remotely about ideas, best practices, concerns, and more. Some franchisors are even establishing formal colleague consulting measures to improve a franchise's bottom line, operations, and scalability across the board.

Jeff Berkson, senior communication strategist at Kindle Communications, believes colleague consulting can help fast-track any business--franchise or not--toward greater success. "Colleague consulting is a credible way to build connections inside your organization," he notes. "It enables the creation of a trusted learning community with a shared mission and an enhanced commitment to your brand."

4. Think virtual--all the time.

Instead of making the needs of your remote workers a secondary consideration, keep them front and center in all communications. For instance, in addition to offering videoconferencing, set parameters for the running of meetings. This can mean anything from starting every meeting with all-participant story swaps, a la Google, to ensuring that off-site workers get the floor to kick off certain discussions. A remote employee may even be the best choice to run some meetings, giving him or her the opportunity to own the conversational content in a new way.

Beyond expecting off-site workers to participate just as their in-house colleagues do, be sure that all communications are shared directly with them. When there's no chance of water-cooler talk for some employees, it's imperative to send out announcements to everyone at the same time and through a consistent medium. Think how demoralizing it would be for a remote worker to be, unawares, sending emails to a colleague who had already put in his notice. And just as important is considering your remote workers' normal office hours: Post them on your team's calendar so that no one expects them to answer messages round-the-clock.

Work is changing all the time. While not every position can happen 100 percent remotely, many can, do, and will. Ready your team for modern working arrangements by setting clear guidelines that engage remote workers now, even if you only have one or two remote employees on your payroll.

Published on: Mar 15, 2019
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