Anyone who's debated how to break up with someone knows there's a stark difference between phone and face-to-face communication. In business, we tend to view communication as a factual exchange of information, but the relational element of working in teams can’t be ignored, even when team members work remotely.
With geographically dispersed teams (or, as we call them, GDTs), the nuances of face-to-face interaction and the fun of spontaneous mingling don't exist. This void can lead to feelings of isolation.
People who feel isolated may not be as communicative. If they show up for meetings at all, they may exist only as a silent blue shadow emoticon rather than a real member of the team. They also function with more uncertainty and have fewer opportunities to ask questions. According to a 2014 report, 26% of people who work from home struggle with drawing the line between work and personal time.
So why create GDTs with all these challenges? Because the benefits are fantastic.
An ode to remote workers
I love having a GDT. Mixing local and nonlocal staff members gives us more flexibility and availability to help clients. The company can manage a bigger workload without overloading staff.
91% of those who work from home rather than an office believe they're more productive. That same survey also revealed higher levels of satisfaction and happiness among remote workers. The power to choose how, where, and when they work has kept our remote team members satisfied with their jobs, creating low turnover. While keeping our friends around is enough, 87% of businesses consider retention a critical concern, especially with the economy steadily improving.
But you can't enjoy these benefits if your remote workers fall victim to feelings of isolation. Team leaders can do several things to make sure remote workers feel integral to the team:
1. Show your face.
Instead of a call where employees just hear your voice, set up FaceTime, Slack video calls, or Google Hangouts. International companies such as Global Solutions Marketing utilize videoconferencing to ensure every team is connected no matter the locale. Don't neglect the use of high-quality technology. Nothing makes you more aware of your distance from someone than constantly saying, "What? You cut out again!"
2. Pursue meaningful information.
Learning about employees' unique interests and personalities won't happen organically during happy hour drinks. It takes more effort to know them and make them feel valued as individuals.
Try instituting regular show-and-tell opportunities when employees can show off what they’ve been working on. You can celebrate birthdays, new babies, weddings, send-offs and, of course, the many iterations of projects. We also send out a question of the day to consistently learn more about one another.
3. Limit your number of portals.
Don't go overboard providing a multitude of digital communication options. Ideally, companies with remote team members will use only one main platform to communicate. Just make sure it has videoconferencing capabilities. It's hard to engage in a meeting when you can't see or be seen.
4. Set up one-on-ones.
Team leaders should hold individual video chats to check in. They can discuss any concerns and let people share about progress with personal and professional goals. When these conversations are regular, they give employees a chance to communicate in a more personal way and ask questions without having to schedule a potentially inconvenient phone call.
Feelings of isolation are an unfortunate side effect of a largely positive arrangement. If businesses take steps to connect with remote workers, every employee can enjoy the benefits of GDTs without worry.
Michael Manning, chief relationship officer at Rocksauce Studios, joined the team to bring her considerable marketing, analytical, and relationship skills to the team. As chief relationship officer, she leads the charge on invigorating the company's loyalty, happiness, and customer engagement from within. Connect with her on Twitter.
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