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Why Remote Workers May Fall Behind: Strategies for Creating a Better Work Environment

Remote Workers

We’re into our second year of a pandemic and ever-changing work-from-home requirements. As offices shift their policies, many are still struggling to communicate effectively with their coworkers. Those who used to be in an office can no longer swing by a coworker’s cubicle to get their insights or catch up on how their weekend went. Communication is even more challenging for those who started new jobs in the last year and a half—they may be six months into a job while never having met their coworkers in person. This presents unique challenges for day-to-day office interaction. Those who want to get ahead in their organization must act proactively upon strategies to connect with their coworkers, clients, and leaders. 

Issues for Remote Workers 

The data shows that remote workers are working harder, but that they are less likely to receive a raise or promotion than in-person workers, even though they do almost double the overtime compared to their in-office colleagues. They were also 38% less likely to have received a bonus, and less likely to receive training opportunities. Those who work from home are also much more likely to work in the evenings, which disrupts the normal rhythms of social and family life. While this flexibility is often touted as a “benefit” to remote workers, it comes with many hidden costs.

The most interesting thing about this data set? It was collected from 2010-2019. This goes to show that the issue is not COVID-specific, but a continuing problem for at-home workers. They have fewer interactions with their boss or supervisors, and often report feeling unsure about how they are performing in their roles. This can create a lot of trust issues and communication breakdowns between employees and their management teams. Many nuances of interpersonal interactions are missing here—for one, you aren’t having the in-between water-cooler moments to chat about how the week is going and plans for the weekend. There is less of a sense of community and more of a work-horse mentality. This means that those who simply get tasks done are positively evaluated, while those who possess people management skills or other managerial traits are often overlooked in a 100% remote environment. 

So what’s the reason behind this? If your entire company is only output-based (which I have talked about in a previous article), then that is the only thing that will be evaluated. Without face-to-face interaction, some personality types can be misinterpreted, or some employees who might not be extremely driven by output but are excellent at interpersonal connection simply slip into the background. This doesn’t always mean they are under-performing—it means they are not in the correct environment needed to succeed. 

Create Connection in Everyday Interactions 

Every member of a company must proactively engage with their coworkers for a thriving virtual environment. There are a few simple strategies that may work in your environment. One of the quickest ways to connect? Utilize every digital tool available and recreate “water cooler moments” within your company. Slack, Zoom, phone calls, and texts aren’t simply for client meetings. It should be second nature to pick up the phone and ask each member of your team how they are doing. Make sure your team knows they have access and feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling you. If you’re not talking to your colleagues on the phone once a week, you’re missing out. You couldn’t possibly know what they are thinking and feeling when you only engage them digitally.

I’ve implemented this strategy at every one of my companies. I want my team to hear my voice weekly, so they feel connected and like a valued member of our team. Asking how everyone is doing must become a part of your daily routine or no less than a weekly rhythm. You can even hop on your Zoom call a few minutes early and use that time to check in on everyone before the meeting starts. Use small opportunities at meetings to ask if there are any updates or if the team needs more support and guidance. 

If you can’t pick up the phone and call, be more expressive with your digital communications. Gifs and memes aren’t foolproof substitutes for body language and tone of voice, but they add unique character and expression to your messages. Adding this emotion aids an otherwise dry exchange, and helps prevent them from misinterpreting the emotion behind your words.

If you aren’t used to this level of communication or feel uncomfortable being so expressive, start practicing and make it a habit. Put “water-cooler time” into your daily schedule and check in on your employees and teammates during that time. The more visibility and engagement you have, the more connected you will feel. It is as easy as blocking off time on your calendar and making it a mandatory part of the workweek. This is a great opportunity to schedule a weekly team call to check in on departments and get a pulse on the health of your organization.

As a leader, it’s also important to publicly acknowledge your employees’ “wins” and accomplishments to the entire company. You want to make sure people know that you see them and you’re celebrating their victories. This bolsters their sense of value, worth, and contribution. This is as easy as posting team wins in your company’s Slack, or sending out a quick email to your employees to acknowledge accomplishments. Make sure they know that they are of value and their contributions are seen and recognized. 

Read more for additional insights from Mark E. Watson III

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