Recently, a client told me they transitioned much of their team to a remote work environment because they didn’t have the facility space to accommodate their growing team. Our client said the team was adjusting to the new work environment but, as a manager, he was personally challenged with managing workforce productivity, keeping employee morale high and, most importantly, coaching in the moment.
It occurred to me that leading a telecommuting team comes with its own set of challenges beyond that of the employee physically adjusting to the new work environment.
It is all too easy for employee morale, drops in workforce engagement and lower productivity to occur when transitioning to a remote work environment. Without actively taking steps to communicate and support your team, employees will begin to feel disconnected from their colleagues and their professional responsibilities.
As leaders, there are several ways we can help preserve productivity, team morale and provide a sense of normalcy:
Remote workers can easily find themselves being overlooked for things like team lunches, company celebrations, and other events. Be sure to take some time to include them any way you can.
Ensure your worker has the equipment and resources needed to replicate their in-office set up at home. Do a test run on your system’s remote access capabilities to ensure all programs are accessible and there a no connectivity issues.
As a leader, it is important to define goals and set expectations prior to your team members transitioning to a remote workplace. Be sure to discuss required work hours; if your business model allows for schedule flexibility, have a conversation with your team so everyone is clear on when they are expected to be "in office".
Regular communication is key to workplace cohesion. Having scheduled team meetings and one-on-one sessions with each team member goes a long way to promote a sense of belonging.
While scheduled meetings are the perfect time to discuss business topics, it’s important to also make time to connect personally with one another. Think of it this way: If you were both in the office, you might ask, “How was your weekend?” or “How was your daughter’s game last night?”. The team dynamic doesn’t have to change simply because your work locations have changed.
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Without a physical presence in the office, remote workers can feel overlooked. They often feel excluded from the full benefits of training sessions, impromptu team huddles and having immediate access to management. Leadership should make it a point to reach out to those workers to check-in regularly.
A coaching conversation should never wait until your next scheduled meeting – pick up the phone and talk.
Avoid having those conversations via email or instant message; inflection and tonality are important, and there is too much room for misinterpretation when it comes to written conversations.
In an office setting, it’s easy to walk over and give someone a high five for a job well done or call out their achievement(s) in a group setting. Even though it may seem silly, sending an email with the entire team copied on it to help that remote worker feel recognized can go a long way. Recognition for an accomplishment –regardless of the format—is a morale booster for all!
We are human, and seeing other faces makes us feel connected. It is important to remember, however, when connecting with your team, not every call needs to be a video call.
Weekly, one-on-one calls to discuss strategy, performance, feedback, coaching/mentoring are ideal for this format.
Non-verbal communication adds context to a conversation, and simply holding phone calls between your team, may prevent you from fully understanding what a person is truly feeling or thinking.
Make it Fun!
Because of the physical distance, remote workers can easily find themselves being overlooked for things like team lunches, company celebrations, and other events. Be sure to take some time to include them any way you can.
Encourage the remote workers to take a 5-minute break to bond with another team member. If you have themed dress days in the office (like Sports Fan Day, or Funny Hat Day), encourage your remote workers to participate and send pictures to each other.
Bringing It All Together
Communication is a key component to making every employee feel like a valuable part of the team and keeping morale up. Remember to recognize accomplishments and communicate regularly using a variety of tools – phone, IM, email and most importantly video conferencing. It takes effort on both the remote worker and the manager’s sides to make the telecommuting work environment collaborative and cohesive.