Out of Office, Out of Mind? Creating a Fair Experience for Remote Employees
Research has shown that remote employees suffer from a perceived lack of commitment . They also often miss out on key assignments and engagement opportunities necessary for promotion – no matter how passionate or productive they may be. And while extended periods of telecommuting have gone a long way towards changing attitudes, many remote employees report significant anxiety around the decision to return to the office or remain remote as employers begin to resume ‘normal’ operations.
How can you ensure that the team members who can’t come back to the office remain on track professionally? Below are our suggestions on how to optimize the remote employee experience and ensure a level playing field for your workforce.
Respect remote employees’ choices and privacy
Recognize that employees may choose to remain remote for a variety of reasons. For every employee eager to continue sending emails in fuzzy slippers, there’s another who desperately misses putting on a suit and heels but can’t risk exposing a medically vulnerable relative. Managers shouldn’t confuse the ability to return to work with desire or commitment, or press employees to justify the decision to continue working from home. Doing so may violate state or local virus control measures or company privacy policies.
Check in regularly with your remote employees
One key to optimizing the remote employee experience? Understanding it. Open communication ensures you receive the information necessary to create policies that address real concerns. Accept feedback and adjust where needed. Procedures that worked well when your entire workforce worked from home may no longer do the job.
Focus on employee engagement to understand what your remote workers need. Also, ensure the remote employee experience remains fulfilling and productive. You may find that your remote workers have specific knowledge or development gaps. In this case, consider solutions designed to deliver customized training for a distributed workforce. Likewise, make sure your remote employees benefit from the same educational opportunities as those in the office.
Adjust for video fatigue
Neuroscientists studying human communication agree that interacting over Zoom, Skype or other video platforms makes big demands on the brain. With video conferencing such an integral part of the remote employee experience, managers should make an effort to keep meetings brief and to-the-point as much as possible. This will help avoid video fatigue and ‘Zoom gloom’ for team members working from home.
Set clear policies around working hours
Set boundaries around time and honor them consistently. Employees who return to the office shouldn’t feel pressured to sign on as soon as they get home because their remote colleagues are still connected. Likewise, remote workers shouldn’t feel pressured to go harder and faster to ‘make up’ for lost facetime.
Share the love – and the laptops
Make sure your remote workers have the same resources as their in-office colleagues, especially when it comes to technology. One study revealed that a full 44% of employees required to work from home received no additional support or supplies from employers. But think beyond hardware. A project manager with two school-aged children attending virtual classes may struggle with connection speeds and appreciate a boost in her internet bandwidth.
Recent research revealed that, far from slacking off, many employees actually made significant gains in productivity while working from home during the pandemic. However, it’s human nature for unconscious bias to color our perceptions of people with whom we interact consistently.
While it may be tempting to monitor your remote employees more than those you can see, resist the urge to subject those working from home to additional check-ups, whether in the form of required check-ins or intrusive software.
Develop systems for assigning tasks
Collaborate with managers to design work allocation and project staffing procedures that keep remote workers in line for career-advancing assignments. Employees working remotely report significant anxiety around professional development. They worry that they won’t receive the amount or type of work required to progress upwards.
Invest in team and project management technology that offers real-time insight into productivity and capacity. This will ensure equal opportunity across your distributed workforce.
Create structured engagement opportunities for remote employees
The remote employee experience shouldn’t necessarily feel remote. As much as possible, offer those working from home the chance to engage with colleagues. For example, you can do this through online social events or virtual lunch and learn webinars. Mentorship programs that match remote workers with in-office supervisors keep your employees connected. These programs can also soothe anxieties around recognition for contributions and accomplishments.
As organizations continue to adapt to distributed teams and alternative working arrangements, keeping the remote employee experience at the forefront ensures that all team members are able to truly return to work – regardless of location.