Telecommuting is a great option that can boost employee engagement in many ways. But it presents a challenge in other ways—team-building activities like all-hands meetings and after-work happy hours don’t really work for remote workers. And they can’t gather around the water cooler to toss around ideas or keep up with the latest social news. How do you keep employees on board with the community when they’re not on site?
Here are some tried-and-true strategies from organizational leaders to create and sustain camaraderie between remote workers and their on-site colleagues.
Create Casual Connections
For Peter Kozodoy, Chief Strategy Officer at GEM Advertising, technology is the way to re-create the in-person dynamic. “We set up a television in our main floor area with a live webcam between offices, so workers and passersby could feel connected,” he tells us. “Then, we set up mandatory daily departmental meetings between offices, not only to catch up on work, but also to share personal accomplishments and news updates.” The result is that their teams are grouped by department instead of geographic location.
Author and speaker Lisette Sutherland gives additional suggestions on fostering connections. “Hosting regular virtual coffees or virtual lunches gives people an opportunity to spend non-work time together. Use online games and tools to learn about each other’s personalities. Host regular remote retrospectives to allow for team members to reflect on the processes, vent frustrations, or give feedback.”
And if employees are intimidated by the prospect of getting to know an entire team of remote workers, make it more manageable. Heather Wilde shares what she did as Director of Technical Support at Evernote: “I paired people up and made sure they knew what was going on in the different locations worldwide, giving everyone a ‘buddy’ somewhere else around the world, and always keeping a worldwide chat system going.”
Nip Resentment In The Bud
It’s also important to tackle the barriers that can pop up between employees who don’t see each other, and not let distance create a divide.
Leigh Steere, cofounder of Managing People Better, LLC, notes that “some remote workers report that they feel overlooked and that their in-office counterparts get a disproportionate share of the plum assignments.” In addition, on-site employees can have the misconception that remote workers do less work, since they aren’t physically supervised. Steere says, “Managers need to be proactive in ensuring remote workers get adequate recognition and praise for their accomplishments and contributions to team results.”
Chris Costello, Founder and Principal of CBG Benefits reminds us to think of remote workers when offering company perks and incentives. “If your company offers rebates or gift certificates to fitness centers or restaurants, it makes sense to choose locations that are near the office. But if remote workers also earn those incentives as a result of their efforts, it’s important to customize the reward so that they truly benefit from it.”
Camaraderie is a vital part of employee engagement, so don’t let it slip away just because your workers aren’t near each other. The strategies these leaders shared all have a common thread: making remote workers feel appreciated and included in the team. Try them out to help close the distance between your employees.