Is there an antidote to feeling remote? Recent research by leadership gurus David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny highlights some serious challenges remote workers face – feelings of being left out and ganged up on, for starters – but they also offer a sliver of hope.
According to the research, bullying can happen anywhere – even from the comfort of your own home. More than a third of remote workers said their colleagues team up against them and more than half found their colleagues treat them unfairly. The research also found that on-site employees tend to make changes to projects without telling their remote counterparts in advance and don’t fight for their priorities.
This is not good. It’s not good for employees (and the 100,000+ hours we spend at work in our lifetimes), organisations and our society at large. But, there’s hope. Grenny and Maxfield concluded that the onus shouldn’t just be on remote employees to make their situation work; effective communication from managers is essential to happiness, fulfilment and productivity. This includes a mix of checking in frequently, using an optimal mix of technology and demonstrating superior communication skills. And lots and lots of listening.
I am technically a remote-y (part satellite office worker; part work-from-home worker) and someone who is passionate about internal communications. I feel supported by my company, which offers its employees the flexibility of working from home, or from other locations, and has some pretty terrific managers on staff who are available, empathic and all-around lovely human beings.
I also appreciate that distance (in my case, many miles and time zones), can exacerbate issues already at play. Some days, I spend longer than I like digging for information that I need to make my job easier; other days I’m frustrated when my managers are not direct or explicit with me and things get lost in translation. Then, I’m frustrated by myself when I’m not as direct or explicit as I can be with my virtual teams. By acknowledging the challenges, we can all do a little better. From my own experience, these three things are crucial:
- Carefully consider remote workers as part of your internal comms strategy – and the varying and unique ways in which they work. Remote workers are not just folks who sit around in their slippers and take conference calls from home. We’re in plants, trucks, fields, shop floors, factories, etc., driving impact and change in our organizations. How will you tailor your comms strategy (and tech infrastructure) to meet these people where they work – and in ways that will enhance productivity and fulfilment, and drive a greater connection to the organization? About 50% of people work remotely these days and that number is expected to rise – we simply cannot be ignored.
- Don’t forget the “forgotten middle.” Companies that focus on cultivating manager superstars will thrive. Start by making the right hires – don’t just hire people for job skills and qualifications; examine their track record of managing and motivating people, including remote individuals and teams. Then, make the investment; train them on how to work effectively with people across different locations, geographies and time zones. Next, empower them with knowledge. Strategic communications shouldn’t just be delivered by leaders to employees (few to many); managers should carry the communications torch and communicate with direct reports on an ongoing and deliberate basis (many to few). And, use technology to support the process. A successful train company in the UK with many remote employees, for example, has created an app just for middle managers – it includes tools and resources, such as how to have difficult conversations with employees. Finally, ensure your managers are held accountable and, equally, motivated themselves.
- Know thy employee. Organizations that cultivate a culture of compassion, near and far, and get to really know their employees – what motivates them, what makes them tick, what gets in their way of achieving greatness – will win the day. Some questions managers should consider asking their employees: How is your day? How are you feeling about your workload/work? Are you struggling with anything? Are you enjoying the work you’re doing? What can I do to make your job easier and more fulfilling? Is my feedback clear and direct? Do you have the resources, tools and technology to do the best possible work? Are you making an effort to connect with employees face-to-face (in person, Skype, etc.); are others making an effort with you? Are your priorities being supported? Are you being included in important decisions that impact your work and career? Are you happy and fulfilled? Challenged and motivated? Do you know how valuable you are; how grateful we are to have you as part of the team; and how much we appreciate you and your contributions?
It’s a process and it’s not easy. But by looking for opportunities to demonstrate trust on an ongoing basis and provide meaningful connections with those who are least connected, your organization and employees will be set up for success.
Long gone are the days when most teams not only worked physically side-by-side but also lived in the same cities, ate at the same restaurants, and even had kids who attended the same schools. Now, teams are spread out across different sites and geographies. Many people work with colleagues they have never met face-to-face or even spoken to on the phone. In these settings, relationships are often mediated by technology, and it can be tough to build trust. Our latest research shows that remote workers, and the managers tasked with keeping them focused and engaged, face inherent challenges that cannot be ignored.