Remote work isn’t going away any time soon—but your remote workers might if you don’t take steps to ensure they have the ongoing attention, support, and engagement they require.
Three years into remote work as a standard across many industries, it’s clear that what was once expected to be a temporary fix in the face of a global pandemic is indeed here to stay. Employees are increasingly demanding the flexibility that comes with setting their own hours and working from whatever location is most convenient for them. Employers are increasingly understanding that offering this type of flexibility will help them stand out in a labor market that remains competitive, especially for certain high demand positions.
Remote is the Present, and Future, of Work
Even managers who were once almost collectively averse to managing people who they could not physically see have come around to recognize the benefits of remote work. Forbes recently reported on a study by the University of Birmingham which found that “52% of managers agreed that working from home improves concentration, 60% said it improves productivity, and 63% stated it increases motivation.”
In-person engagement is no longer a requirement in a wide range of work settings and roles. However, engagement of some kind must be at the forefront of any successful remote work environment.
The challenge, of course, is how business leaders and frontline managers can keep employees engaged in hybrid and remote settings.
A New Mandate for Engagement
While remote work has largely been received positively over the past few years, some issues have emerged.
One of these is “proximity bias”—the belief that managers view those they physically interact with more favorably than those they work with virtually. It’s a more sophisticated way to refer to the potential for remote employees to be “out of sight, out of mind” and it does pose a real risk—both to companies and employees.
Companies are at risk of overlooking top talent—or even losing that talent—if they don’t address remote employees’ needs for involvement, including opportunities for challenging assignments, training and development. Employees are at risk of not being considered for new opportunities and generally feeling left out.
Organizations must keep remote employees engaged with the company, and its culture, and keep them motivated while working from home. That doesn’t just mean keeping them engaged with their direct supervisors—it means keeping them engaged with the entire organization: their colleagues, customers, vendors, and the company as a whole.
While there’s been plenty of focus on the tactical ways companies can keep employees engaged, there’s been less focus on how to think strategically about engaging remote workers.
Creating a Strategic Focus on Remote Workers
Think about your organization and its remote workers. Who is responsible for them? Obviously, their managers or supervisors, but is that sufficient? Can you simply take the in-office model of management and replicate it for a remote environment? After three years, it certainly seems like that may not be the case. After all, each manager only has a line of sight with their employees—and that line of sight may be limited depending on how frequent their interactions are.
A solution companies should consider is hiring a dedicated team lead responsible for overseeing and managing the remote work experience for both fully remote and hybrid employees. Someone specifically tasked with checking in with remote workers to ensure they have the resources, connection and support they need, to solicit their feedback, to share best practices and opportunities for improvement, and to provide a dedicated touchpoint and channel for communication. Essentially, an HR function for the support of your remote team.
This role might be responsible for providing training and support for remote employees, as well as their supervisors and managers. After all, few if any managers have been trained specifically on how to manage a remote team.
In addition, they might also be responsible for staying up to date on technology and communication trends that could optimize the remote work experience.
Ultimately, they would be a conduit between remote workers, their supervisors and managers, and the senior leadership team.
By Kevin Hoof & Valerie Rausch at Planet Forward
Image credit: Canva