More and more Americans are opting to work from home, with this part of the workforce now numbering 4.7 million, according to a recent analysis. Most people now believe that working remotely at least part of time is the new normal, and it’s easy to see why. Having freedom to work where you want helps cut down on commuting, creates the flexibility to deal with family issues, and enables you set your own schedule.
But there’s also a danger for remote workers: feeling disconnected from the colleagues with whom you collaborate. For telecommuters, not sharing a physical space can make it harder to develop a relationship with one’s co-worker. A fifth of respondents in a 2019 State of Remote Work survey said that loneliness is their biggest struggle, second to unplugging after work. Left untreated, these issues could lead to burnout.
There is good news, though. Strengthening the connections between remote workforces so that everyone is happy, healthy and productive, comes down to three principles.
Encourage an end to the workday — Since remote workers don’t travel to a physical office to do their jobs, they can feel an obligation to always be on call. They can also overwork themselves to express gratitude to their employers for their flexibility. Businesses have to go out of their way to encourage them to end their days near the same time as their office peers.
This can simply be through a “Great job today” message via a company messaging platform such as Microsoft Teams, and a commitment to wait to send non-urgent messages until working hours. Remote workers should also make sure they leave their “office” at the end of the day, whether it’s a physical room -- or just closing one’s laptop.
Schedule face-to-face interactions — Remote workers can often feel like a floating bubble with a name next to it. That’s why it’s important to connect with remote workers via video, through services such as Skype, as much as possible. One obvious occasion to do this is during meetings, but there are other creative times for video calls.
Video calls not only allow employees to speak more casually with each other, but they also put faces to co-workers who don’t share physical space.
Plan group events — Of course, nothing helps remote workers feel more connected than spending time IRL. This could be as simple as inviting remote workers to work from the office for one week or hosting an annual meeting with your entire staff.
Some companies go all-out with their gatherings. FMTC brings many members of its team to Las Vegas every year, where they stay at a rented house and attend an industry conference. Aha! organizes weeklong summits at a different destination twice a year, where they reflect on the past six months, explore their surroundings, volunteer together and share gratitude for one another.
By taking these initiatives, companies can create deep connections among their staff, even if they’re hundreds of miles away.