Many years ago, I remember landing my dream job, or so I thought. I was working as a recruiter for an organization when a friend contacted me to let me know that he and some of his colleagues were putting together their own business. The small human resources outsourcing company would contract with organizations to receive HR services, including benefits administration, employee relations advice, legal assistance, recruiting, and a few other offerings. They had already secured a benefits broker, an attorney, a mediator, a former HR Director, and they were looking for someone with recruitment expertise. At that time, I already had many years in the recruiting industry, which is why they were interested in talking with me.
I met with them, negotiated the specifics of the partnership, and signed on the dotted line! One of the things I was most excited about was that I would finally be joining the ranks of those I had always envied who worked from a home office. I was now the guy who would make calls all morning in his pajamas (no video conferencing back then), work the hours that were most productive for me – whether they be all during the day or maybe late into the evening. I could come and go as I please as long as the results were there, and I would basically be my own boss. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Less than two months into my new work life I faced a sad reality. This new life wasn’t for me. I was lonely. More lonely than I’d ever been in my adult life. This home office thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, at least not for me. Until this experience, I had no idea how important it was for me to be interacting with others on a regular basis. And, not just over the phone, but in person. I stuck it out, suffering in silence, as I tried to figure out how to make things better and to feel more connected.
This was at a time when working from home was more of an exception. It has now become the norm for hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the world. And that number continues to grow. Leading those remote workers can be an ongoing challenge. I’m not talking about the challenges of getting them to put in their time and to really produce. Meaningful results are measurable and always evident. Good leaders can figure that out. I’m talking about the challenges associated with continually engaging team members who may go for weeks or even months without actually being with their team. The loneliness factor is real. Great leaders recognize this and make ongoing efforts to ensure every member of their team feels valued and included.
In my experience, those leaders who do this best make communication, especially with their remote team members, their number one priority. While the following recommendations may not be applicable in every situation every time, this is what great leaders of remote workers do:
- Schedule and hold regular one-on-ones (weekly is ideal). And don’t ever cancel. Remember, this is the remote worker’s “life-line” to the organization.
- Allow an additional 5 to 10 minutes of time for non-work related discussions – (How is your family doing? What plans do you have for summer? I heard you were building a new home, how’s that going?) Show a sincere interest in them as a person, not just one of the team members.
- Use Zoom or some other form of video conferencing for everyone-on-one and for ALL of your team meetings. Even if the rest of the team is physically in the room, go to the trouble and expense to have a camera and speaker set up so remote team members can “join” you.
- Send remote workers a follow-up email after every team meeting, summarizing what was discussed. Even if this isn’t something the other team members are receiving, let that remote worker know you are aware of the challenges of not physically being present and that you wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any of the topics discussed.
- Put a note in your calendar at the end of every day to remember your remote team members. When you see that note, think through anything important they would have been made aware of IF they had been physically in the office. Then, send them a quick email or text with that information. Not only will the information you provide be beneficial to them, but the fact that you are taking the time to do it will mean more to them than you can ever appreciate.
- Understanding that budgets can be tight, make it a priority to bring the team together at least twice a year, and ideally on a quarterly basis. Again, costs may seem prohibitive, but when putting your budget together, don’t forget the money you will invest in helping to raise the engagement level of your team will dramatically improve their performance, which ultimately improves your bottom line.
The ability to work from wherever and whenever is quickly becoming more of the norm. With that trend, wise leaders, great leaders, recognize the critical importance of every team member continually feeling connected. And they take action to make that happen!