A 49-year-old father of two hits his alarm clock at 6:30 a.m., starts a pot of coffee and prepares for his daily commute. For the past 3 years Bill Lewis has worked for a large company based in the heart of New York City and even though his home in Texas is nearly 2,000 miles from the office, Bill’s daily commute only takes him a few steps. Along with a rapidly growing percent of America’s workforce, Bill Lewis is a telecommuter, a remote employee. He completes his daily assignments from his front porch, sends emails from a coffee shop down the street, and holds conference calls in his living room.
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In the past 10 years, this type of work environment has become one of the fastest growing trends in the corporate world. According to the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, it is estimated that telecommuting rose 79 percent between 2005 and 2012, and with the constant evolution of communication technology, this trend shows no signs of stopping. More and more companies are turning to remote employment as a means to lower costs and lock in skilled workers. It seems like a winning recipe except for one large downside; technology can never fully replace the intangible benefits of human connection.
Leaders must adapt to this obstacle in order to engage remote employees and maintain a positive work environment. Here are some tips on how to create a healthy “connection culture” that engages people by keeping them feeling connected to the organization while working in your virtual workplace.
First and foremost, you have to maximize face-time with remote workers. The easiest way to do this is by using programs like Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangouts. Reserve a time for this type of communication at least twice a month in order to maintain a healthy workplace relationship. In addition to virtual communication, schedule times to meet in person as often as possible. Telecommuting technologies have never been more advanced, but the human element simply can’t be replaced.
As a leader, keep multiple lines of communication open and make sure your remote workers are aware of those lines. Remote employment puts workers at risk of losing their voice in the company. As the leader, it is your responsibility to open lines of communication and determine which medium allows your virtual employees to share their ideas and opinions.
Give your remote employees opportunity for growth. A study conducted by Stanford Professor of Economics Nicholas Bloom found that remote employees worked 9.5 percent longer and were 13 percent more productive than their in-office colleagues, but were promoted at half the rate. Make sure you do not neglect your virtual workers in this way. On the other hand, be careful not to become overly attentive. Micromanaging your remote employees will stifle their growth and tell them they are not valued. If you want them to grow, practice trust, delegate responsibilities and reward their achievements.
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Finally, take the time to speak candidly about things other than work. It is easy to become lonely when you work from home, and remote employees should be made aware of their need for connection. As a leader, it is your responsibility to gauge your employees’ satisfaction with their work environment and invest in their overall health. Without a sense of connection in the virtual workplace, productivity will drop and burnout is sure to follow.
By 1) maximizing face-time, 2) opening multiple lines of communication, 3) allowing opportunity for growth, and 4) speaking candidly, remote managers can engage their employees and sustain a virtual connection culture.
Colton Perry, an intern at E Pluribus Partners, co-authored this article.