Editor's Note: This post has been updated to include tips specifically for teams who find themselves newly-remote due to COVID-19.
A study performed by Upwork (a company that links businesses with freelancers) and the Freelancers Union in 2017 predicts that a majority of the US workforce will be remote by 2027. Already in 2017, 47% of Millennials undertook some amount of freelance work.
If you’re a company that doesn’t have remote employees, you may need to consider adding some in the future (the same study found that, since 2014, remote work grew 3x as fast as the overall workforce). You might already be missing some of the best talent out there, and this will become even more likely once remote work takes up over half the workforce.
And if you’re in a company that already has a remote or partially-remote culture, you need to make sure that your remote employees feel connected because nobody plays their best game if they don’t feel like they’re part of the team.
Here are 5 ways to rope in those remote employees and make them feel right at home—even if home is their actual house... and 500 miles away from the office.
How to engage remote employees
1. Make sure they have regularly scheduled 1-on-1's
Take time out of your week to Skype, FaceTime, or jump into a Google Hangout with your remote employees. We know that you have 1,000 other things to do during your workday, but make this a priority. You aren’t going to get the best performance out of someone if they don’t feel like they’re a part of the decision making process.
The more responsibilities you pick up, the easier it is to pass off talking to your remote employees. But in some ways it’s even more important to keep up with those who are outside of the office. You can keep tabs on someone in the office easily, and you can pick up non-verbal cues about whether they’re happy or productive without having a sit-down meeting. But there’s absolutely no way of knowing what your remote employees are thinking unless you find the time to talk it out.
An email once a week just won’t cut it. You should streamline the process so that you aren’t wasting time every day figuring out what’s going on, but you need to clear time in your schedule to have open dialogue.
2. Consider them for advancement
I’m currently remote, so hopefully this doesn’t come off as opportunistic, but it’s important for your remote employees to feel like their work is appreciated and respected. Nothing communicates this as much as offering them opportunities to learn and advance within the company.
Your best employees want to grow and learn and be rewarded for their work, and this includes your remote employees as well. Retaining great talent begins by noticing and rewarding it. People want to be respected and valued, and the clearest way of showing them is by considering them for a promotion or some added responsibility that’s tied to a pay raise.
3. Bring them into the office (if you have one)
Invite your remote employees to the office. They may live 1,000 miles away, but nowadays, this may not stop them from being in your neighborhood occasionally, and when they are, it goes a long way to invite them over.
Even better, if your company has the budget, fly them into town for onboarding or for a performance review. Training, onboarding, and reviews sometimes feel like a lot of money and time lost, but the office is a lot like the kitchen—taking 20 minutes to sharpen the knife will save you hours of arm-wrenching hacking. You’re going to get the very best from people if you invest in their education and you go through the effort of making an in-person meeting a reality.
Show them around the office and tell them about all the company’s plans and dreams. Show them the nuts and bolts of what goes into making your product or performing your service. Let them meet with the people who are involved in the same projects and have them put faces to the people they may be emailing or working with on a weekly basis.
Make them feel like they really belong; they are giving a piece of their time and soul to the same mission that your in-office employees are.
This may sound simple, but all relationships are built on trust. And nobody is going to trust you if they don’t think you’re listening. If you value your remote employee’s input, they’re more than likely going to like working with you.
Not only is this good for keeping them plugged in, but remote employees offer a unique perspective for the company since they aren’t in the office full time. The office can often become an insular environment, and only by getting new blood involved in the process can you break through and spark positive change.
Sometimes, the best ideas come from people who are approaching a problem for the first time or from a different perspective. You can become so used to the status quo that you may not be able to see how things can improve for the better. Your remote employees have a unique perspective when it comes to your company. Even though they’re a part of the company, they can view it from an outsider’s perspective.
Listen to what they have to say. They may not always be right, but it won’t hurt anything to get a fresh perspective.
5. Send them some company swag
Anytime someone joins your team, send them an onboarding package. This can include a couple different things: a book that defines your culture, a handwritten letter, a dvd of a movie that everyone loves or encapsulates the office’s humor. But send them something physical.
Also, think about including a branded t-shirt in the package. This is something they can wear while they’re working from the house or from a coworking space and it will immediately make them feel attached to your brand and mission.
What you wear is one of the first things that someone else notices about you, and although the decision becomes rote over time, it’s one of the few things we have complete control over in our day. You may be surprised about how loyal your employees are to your brand even if they live and work on the other side of the country.
6. Help them meet their coworkers
When working remotely, it's pretty hard to just stumble into coworkers to introduce yourself, as naturally happens the first week or two in an office. Setting up a system, whether it's scheduled time video-time with a coworker or intro's on Slack, will help employees meet more people and start building virtual friendships.
Services like Donut also make it easy and seamless for employees to connect and grab time together to chat topics both work and non-work related.
Talk to us
Finding ways to rope remote employees into the process is going to be a central question in the future. Remote work is expanding quickly, and understanding how to manage, direct, reward, and work with people 1,000 miles away is going to be necessary for survival in the years ahead.
This isn’t a thoroughly studied psychological study, but I’m writing this article 179 miles away from Real Thread’s office, and next week I’ll be 1,083 miles away!
When I was in Orlando, I got to stop by to see what the screen printing process looks like and meet the rest of the marketing team, and I got a cool, comfy t-shirt before I even wrote my first article. Some days, if I don’t leave the house, my wife is the only person that knows that I’m wearing my Real Thread t-shirt while I’m punching away at the keyboard.
To hook your remote employees up with some great company swag, talk to our team! We'd love to help you get started.