Telecommuting Employees: How to Avoid Exclusion

While more and more workers are telecommuting, there is increasing evidence that all is not a bed of roses in work-from-home offices across the nation. Testimony from work-at-home employees themselves, such as a recent set of pointers from a remote New York Times writer, indicates that combating isolation takes active planning.

The Harvard Business Review recently published results from a survey of 1,153 workers who telecommute at least part of the time. The survey indicated that remote workers feel almost startlingly left-out and excluded.

The survey asked for responses to statements such as “colleagues say bad things about me behind my back” and “colleagues don’t fight for my priorities.” A majority of all employees agreed with the latter statement, but the percentage of telecommuters who agreed was significantly higher than that of on-site employees. A healthy percentage of both categories of employees also agreed with the former statement, but many more telecommuters agreed than their on-site compatriots.

Telecommuters want periodic on-site or video meetings.  

How Can Managers Make Remote Employees Part of the Team?

Given that teamwork and engagement are integral to productive work and retention of good employees, how can managers turn these feelings around?

Nicely enough, the HBR survey also asked employees what they thought the best practices of managers were in telecommuting situations. The distilled responses were as follows.

  • Make it a point to touch base frequently

Forty-six percent of telecommuting workers said that good remote managers touched base frequently and regularly. The timing can vary from weekly to every other week. It shouldn’t be scheduled on the fly, but part of regular practice.

  • Meet remote workers in person or via voice or video periodically

Twenty-five percent of survey respondents said face time ruled. Once a week, month, quarter or annually, they liked to see their manager and coworkers in person. If this wasn’t feasible, voice or video was preferable to (for example) e-mail only.

  • Communicate well.

Good communication is the same for good managers of remote employees as for good managers of onsite employees. They stayed in touch about projects and progress, they were respectful, and they led the team to be inclusive and respectful as well.

  • Develop clear expectations

Projects, roles, and delivery dates need to be very clear on teams with remote workers. Chances to clarify aren’t going to happen as supervisors and employees pass each other in the hallways.

  • Maintain availability by time zone

Open-door policies also ruled among survey respondents. And they ruled without regard for in or out of office or time zone. Good managers, in the opinion of survey respondents, were available via e-mail, phone, or other digital communication methods whenever necessary.

  • Be comfortable with technology 

Those digital communication methods should be practiced. Managers need to be comfortable with them.

  • Team build and provide a personal touch

Human beings haven’t changed because of remote work capabilities. Teamwork and personal relationships create trust and comfort. Good managers need to use methods of team-building that work across digital space and make an effort to know their employees personally.

Remote work should not result in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind situation. The seven practices above are good policies for all workers, but especially necessary in teams that include remote employees.