As a corporate gal myself, my posts for The Work at Home Woman are usually focused on maximizing the opportunities presented to us as “remote” or “virtual” employees. As I have said before, there are a lot of obvious things to be grateful for (e.g. being home when my kids get home from school, having greater flexibility with work and life issues, no commute, working in my “street clothes” vs. pumps and suits, etc.).
But there are some significant challenges that come with being a home-based worker, too. We have to work a little bit harder to promote our accomplishments to our bosses and we can often miss out on the synergies that we’d experience by being face-to-face in a more traditional office setting.
Keeping remote employees engaged can be really tricky, too. After all, that motivational speech or team challenge really seems to lose its luster via email or conference call. How do we keep everyone excited and connected to the team when we are physically isolated from one another? Check out the following tips for some possible answers!
1.) Adopt An Instant Messaging Tool
One of the things that really help us stay connected in a traditional office setting is the way we can instantly access one another. We just have to get up from our desks and walk over to our colleague’s office and, voila, we can talk about a business problem we are facing, ask a quick question, or show interest in that home renovation project they took on over the weekend. As a work at home employee, this process doesn’t tend to happen as naturally. We have to call one another, or, draft up an email and a lot of times, people would rather just skip the interaction all together. That is why I am a big believer in instant messaging. My colleagues and I are currently piloting the Meebo.com tool, which allows the user to chat with others via a wide assortment of instant chat accounts (like Facebook, Yahoo, Google and MSN) all from one place. In addition, it is web-based, so we don’t have to worry about downloading an application to our desktops. Once we are logged in, we can shoot off a quick question, ask about a co-worker’s upcoming vacation, or generally indicate our availability for more detailed communication (like a phone call to discuss a business problem if needed). Tools like Skype take this a bit further by offering instant video chat.
2.) A Company that Plays Together, Stays Together
The camaraderie and bonds that are forged through workplace celebrations are critical to an organization’s work culture. And if you don’t ever have the chance to celebrate your successes together, it will be very difficult to craft a cohesive team. That’s why virtual colleagues need to go the extra mile to have some shared company fun. If headquarters is enjoying some down time in celebration of a holiday or some company success, then, remote workers should have the same privilege and close up shop, too. I knew one virtual supervisor who used to take the time to ship cupcakes or a little container of cookies to all his virtual employees so that they could celebrate a team member’s birthday or company anniversary together. They’d be instructed to call into a team conference call, wait to open their packages until everyone was on the call, and then partake of the goodies together. It took a little bit of orchestration, but his team eventually really relished the celebrations and would look forward with Christmas morning type anticipation to unwrap their goodies.
3.) Assign Virtual Teams
One way to eliminate silos and get remote employees working together is to assign them to virtual teams. Remote workers who wouldn’t typically communicate not only build new relationships, but they also can learn from and motivate one another. And your client’s win, too, by having different team members with a fresh perspective working to identify new and innovative solutions to their problems.
4.) Equal Access, Expectations, Accountability for All
Manager’s of a virtual workforce have to go above and beyond to make sure that access to them, information exchange, project involvement, performance expectations and accountability are equal for all employees. They cannot pick favorites. No one group or employee should get assigned to the best projects, receive all the public recognition for their work, or be held to a different standard than the rest. Sometimes this happens as a function of geography. For example, perhaps there is a remote employee who happens to live in the same city as the manager so they tend to meet in person more often. If the other virtual employees learn that their colleague is receiving information before they do, or being presented with opportunities that they don’t get to take advantage of, or seems to receive more of the accolades and recognition than the others, then it can be very de-motivating to the rest of the team.
Christy Schutz, is the author & creator of Higher Calling Communications, which is committed to helping you make the most of your calling! She’s putting 16+ years of experience in the advertising, recruitment, employee communications, marketing & special events industries to good use by helping individuals, businesses & faith-based ministries discover, develop & market their own distinct calling or mission. She also helps people leverage communications strategies that will enable them to build deeper, more effective relationships with those they hope to serve. This Tampa Bay, FL-based Mom also keeps herself busy by raising 4 kids, caring for her husband & doting on her cute Jack Russell Terrier, Petey!