So many organisations now can claim that as much as 30-40 per cent of their workforce operates in isolation of their main office. Yet while technology allows a virtual connection, these employees often feel disengaged from their co-workers and company operations. The ramifications can be damaging over both the short and long term, but it is an area of business that is often ill considered and therefore overlooked.
A hiring manager that is aware of the pitfalls of often working alone will want to be confident that their soon to be remotely positioned candidate demonstrates some key qualities. The candidate will need to be trustworthy and self-motivated as work goals need to be achieved to an acceptable standard and within expected time frames. A competency based interview can reveal how a candidate communicates and manages their time as an independent worker. A skills assessment is a must of course to provide assurance that the candidate can confidently perform to a high level while working autonomously. If they cannot demonstrate these characteristics and abilities, how can they be expected to have a positive influence on the business?
An isolated employee can feel that their relationship with their organisation is diminished and consequently perceive their status within the company is reduced. Not always included in decision making they feel less important, undervalued and disrespected. Omitting employees due to the difficulties their remoteness has on their ability to participate in decisions, lends itself to a sense of not belonging. The challenge for every employer naturally is to make their isolated employees feel valued. And not just new recruits, studies reveal that both short and long term remotely placed employees are affected in the same manner. But what can be done to create a more inclusive working environment?
Engaging the right technology can assist. Video conferencing allows for non-verbal cues to give more meaningful dialogue. But technology that enhances collaborative communications is only useful if everyone understands how it functions. A company intranet that encourages social interaction is a great and healthy way for employees to stay connected with one another as they share ideas, jokes and stories from their diverse experiences. This mode of communication also allows all employees to remain in the loop when important company changes or advancements occur. And always include all employees in traditional company events such as the end of the month BBQ at headquarters. Social exchanges in a professional environment importantly support the company culture and mission.
Obviously not all jobs have an element that allows for work to be conducted remotely. It is important though that should a role need to be executed in isolation of the business’ main activities, that the employee is clear on their job tasks and targets. Defining success will demonstrate their purpose and how their success, or lack of it, impacts other divisions and the company as a whole. Regular face-to-face interactions can help to reinforce the objectives of their role, however don’t over compensate with excessive monitoring. Find a balance that empowers isolated employees to be leaders and make decisions autonomously so they can drive achievement. Remote employees will often work harder and longer, however one must respect their schedule and encourage a healthy work life balance. Oh and for those not tucked away in the back corner but rather 50km’s down the road, save a seat for them at the office, they will pop in from time to time and a welcoming work space of their own will make them feel like an important and valued member of the team.
It can be a challenge to supervise an employee from afar, ensuring they remain abreast of all company undertakings and a part of the culture. There are many risks that if not managed can have employees feeling alone and depressed, insignificant and unappreciated. To generate an inclusive culture one must ensure they have a collaborative outlook, supported by the right mix of technology to enhance communications, and regular contact and social richness that campaigns to reduce the virtual divide and encourage a participative environment where all workers strongly identify with the organisation…whether they’re an everyday familiar face around the office or have a drop-in status.