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Culture and Engagement

5 things your remote workers aren’t telling you (and how to fix it)

Despite best intentions, many organizations are still struggling to properly support their remote workers. Even if remote workers appear to have everything they need, there are likely a few things they aren’t telling you.

7 minute read
Remote workers
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As the digital workplace continues to evolve, working remotely (or in a hybrid workplace) has become an accepted practice for a growing number of organizations. 

And as the popularity of remote work increases, so too has the use of collaboration technologies such as intranet software, since they allow employees to connect to their work and colleagues without a physical presence in the office.

Yet, despite the progress that technology has afforded us, many organizations are still struggling to properly support their remote workers. Some of us may think remote workers have it easy, but the reality is that remote work poses some very unique challenges.

Unlike a traditional workplace, remote work tends to focus more on the output of work, rather than the time spent doing it.  In other words, a remote worker may be constantly wondering if their week of project research gives an impression they are sitting at home with their feet up. 

This unspoken pressure that can lead remote workers to work beyond their optimal productivity.

Further complicating things is the fact that the term working remote means different things to different people. 

For instance, some companies may operate 100% remote, with employees operating independently across the globe. Other organizations may allow only one or two employees to operate remotely, but only under certain circumstances. And finally, some workplaces may have physical offices, yet permit all their employees to work from home periodically. 

While each scenario relates to remote work, they are vastly unique, and therefore require the right tools and processes to properly support it. So even if your remote workers appear to have everything they need, there are likely a few things they aren’t telling you.

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Being the only remote person on a meeting is a frustrating experience

You’ve likely seen the comical ‘conference call bingo cards’, that illustrate the common things heard in almost every conference call. They are relatable because we’ve all endured the pain and frustration of managing conversations with people who aren’t in the same room as us. While comical, they illustrate that while technology helps, it isn’t perfect. 

Attending a meeting where you are the only remote employee can make it incredibly difficult to speak up. You are either interrupting someone or end up being quiet for the duration because you can’t find your opening to participate in the conversation. Video or sound lags can also make it challenging to participate in the conversation. And if you are calling in, sometimes you are forgotten about because no one can see you in the room. 

The reality is that if the meeting culture in your organization is biased towards individuals that interrupt the most, the people that are collocated will have an edge in the conversation over remote team members regardless of which technology you use.  In other words, if a remote meeting participant expresses frustration that they cannot speak without getting interrupted, or they cannot get a word in edgewise, chances are those irritations exist in your collocated meetings too. 

How to fix it: The simplest solution is to be aware of the issue. If you are participating in a conference call with a remote worker, make sure you actively solicit their opinion. For example, during a conference call, you can ask “What do you think [name]?” Or “[name] do you have anything to add?” If they attempt to join the conversation, but are unable to because someone else is talking, make sure to quickly follow-up and solicit their opinion. 

The best approach to solving these types of issues is to change the culture. Moving to a meeting model where agendas and deliverables to be reviewed are circulated ahead of time allows for thoughtful reflection from all meeting participants, not just the most vocal. Improving the accessibility of remote meetings doesn’t just enhance meetings for remote workers—it makes meetings stronger for every employee. 

I sometimes question my value

For organizations who are mostly collocated, and there hasn’t been a shift in the way work is done, it can be difficult for remote employees to feel connected to their team and culture. Conversations organically occur offline, decisions are made without understanding the context—all which force remote workers to feel disconnected. Even with the best intentions, many employees escalate urgent issues and discussions to those present in the office. 

Without the right structure in place, it can leave remote employees feeling as though they are not only out of sight but out of mind too. 

How to fix it: If you are managing a remote employee, consider checking in with them more frequently. Modern intranet software and other collaboration technologies enable us to easily reach out to others. Having regular check-ins help remote workers feel included and part of the workplace culture. 

I work longer hours than you realize

There is still the misconception that remote employees are squandering company time and not really working. This belief has led many remote workers to work longer hours to overcompensate and prove themselves. 

However, research suggests that remote workers actually work longer hours than those who are office-based. A study from Cardiff University found that 39 percent of at-home remote workers said they “often have to work extra time, over and above the formal hours of my job, to get through the work or to help out,” compared to just 24 percent of in-office workers. Also, 73 percent of those who work from home said they put more effort than required into their job, compared to 68.5 percent of those who work from the office.

How to fix it: Abstain from contacting remote employees or emailing them outside of their set hours. And if you see an employee working beyond the traditional window of work, remind them to put their work down for the day. 

I appreciate you checking in on me

Remote work can be an incredibly lonely experience—which can heavily impact productivity. 

A Wharton School of Business study found that loneliness has a “significant influence on employee work performance.” The same study also revealed that people who say they have a ‘best friend’ at work are more productive, and 43% more likely to report having received recognition and praise for their work in the last week.

How to fix it: As mentioned above, it’s important to check in frequently with remote workers.  Not just checking in about projects, but how they are doing as a person. Just as you would with an in-office employee, enquire about your remote worker’s family, hobbies, and any TV shows they may have binged on Netflix. Also, it isn’t just managers that should check in on remote employees; teammates have an equal responsibility to keep connected to remote employees. 

Embracing remote work means embracing a new culture 

Embracing remote work requires a culture shift, and encouraging employees to work out loud. 

If critical conversations are not captured somewhere (like an intranet) or in a general chat channel, there is no way for the remote worker to be kept in the loop. 

When everyone is in the office, it’s easy to walk over to someone’s desk or overhear important conversations, so it’s easy to feel like everyone is kept in the loop. For employees who are not physically in the office, it becomes a disadvantage. 

How to fix it: A clear defined policy or strategy on remote work can help set expectations for both parties.  

As you can see, we still have a lot of work to do before we declare remote work a complete victory. But as remote work becomes the standard operating mode, employers have a strong obligation to get it right.