Hi! My name is Shannon. I’m a content producer here at The Predictive Index® and the only remote member of the marketing team.
A recent Gallup report stated that 31 percent of U.S. employees work remotely 80 to 100 percent of the time.
While there’s a lot of great content out there about building entirely remote teams, it occurred to me that something was missing in the remote content landscape: content about integrating remote and in-office teams.
As someone who’s worked remotely with in-office teams for the several years, I figured I’d jump in to fill the gap.
The challenges of being the only remote team member
While working from home has its advantages, such as furry officemates, it has its challenges, too.
Remote employees have to overcome people’s perceptions.
The thought for most people is that working from home is for lazy people who live in their pajamas all day. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t sometimes dress business professional on top, sweatpants on bottom, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take my work seriously. One of the things most people don’t understand about working remotely is that you’re judged based on your results, not based on your attendance. Since people can’t see what time you arrived at your desk and what time you left the office, the only measure they have for the work you did is the measure we should probably all be using anyway: performance.
Relationship-building can be hard at a distance.
While I think we all have that one Facebook friend we’ve never met in real life, most relationships aren’t built through the internet. They’re built with face-to-face, human interactions. Working from home means I don’t have the opportunity to catch up with people in the hallway or at the coffee machine. Because of this, remote employees miss out on those key, non-work-related moments that build trust-filled working relationships.
You can’t always get ahold of someone.
When you’re not in the office, you can’t casually walk up to someone in the building to ask them a question. Instead, you have to patiently wait for a response by email or a group communication tool like Slack. Occasionally you may have to ask someone else to track down said person for you, if the matter is urgent.
Remote employees don’t always know what’s going on.
Don’t underestimate how many business decisions are made during hallway conversations, water cooler chats, or after work drinks at the bar. When you’re working remotely, you don’t have the opportunity to be included in these conversations, so there’s the potential you may miss out on having your perspective heard or be out of the loop on a new direction the team is heading in.
Remote employees might sometimes feel left out.
This challenge doesn’t necessarily apply to all remote workers, as your employees will have different needs according to their innate behavioral drives. As someone with a high degree of extraversion, I have a need to be included. When the team goes out for an event, celebrates a birthday in the office, or snacks on some pie for Pi Day, I may grab my cat and rummage around the cabinets for a bar of chocolate to feel like part of the celebration. This doesn’t mean my team doesn’t care or make an additional effort to include me in team building activities, but, being remote, there are simply things I won’t have the chance to participate in.
How leaders can create a remote-friendly, inclusive environment
Alright, enough talk about challenges. What do we do about it? The good news is there are things you can do to create a remote-friendly, inclusive environment. Here are a few:
I’m happy to announce that technology has made remote work easier and more accessible than ever. Adopting video technology, such as Zoom video conferencing, and partnering it with a tool like Meeting Owl bridges the gap between in-office employees and those working from home. Using team communication tools, such as Slack, and project management tools like Asana can keep your team on track and in the loop, regardless of where they’re working from.
Talk in front of the camera.
Even though the rest of our team is in the office, PI offers flexible work accommodations, so I’m not always the only one working remotely. The marketing team has a morning stand up meeting, and after I was hired, we transitioned from the team providing updates around the table to having each person stand in front of the camera to deliver their update. This allows team members working outside the office to clearly hear what each person is saying. It also encourages a little extra conversation (“Hi, Shannon!”).
Be conscious of cross-talk during meetings.
Most of the time, we don’t think twice about side conversations during meetings. But microphones pick up on all noise—including side conversations. Keeping cross-talk to a minimum allows your remote employees tuning in to clearly hear the information being presented in the meeting.
Use electronic communication to communicate important messages.
One of the challenges of being remote is that decisions are sometimes made in hallway conversations. These decisions don’t always make their way to people who aren’t in the office (or in the conversation, for that matter). By sharing important messages via written communication, not only do you include people working remotely, but you also create something the team can refer back to if they have questions or forget what was communicated.
Touch base regularly.
When you’re working in the same physical environment, it’s easy to strike up a casual conversation. While it takes a little more effort to reach out to someone who is remote, the effort goes a long way in helping that team member feel included and in building the relationship.
Be open to doing things differently.
Much of how we structure our work days is based on how we’ve always done things—whether that’s a round table morning stand up, dropping by a colleague’s desk with a question instead of shooting over an email, or having check-in meetings about project statuses. The great opportunity for us all in accommodating remote workers is taking a new perspective on how we approach our work. Are we really maximizing our time and doing things efficiently?
Communication is key to successfully integrating your remote employee. Come right out and ask them what challenges they’re experiencing. Encourage them to share suggestions of how you can better accommodate them.
How leaders can cultivate trust with a partially remote team
In addition to creating a work environment conducive to remote employees, it’s important to consider how you’ll cultivate trust between the team members who see each other every day and those who are behind a screen in another part of the country or world.
Schedule time to connect.
Casual conversations tend to fall by the wayside when two employees don’t see each other on a regular basis. This prevents those employees from establishing rapport with one another that’s a crucial part of building trust. Scheduling time to connect with remote members of your team for a casual conversation will help them to feel part of the team and boost trust between coworkers. If your remote employee is high B like me, consider scheduling a 15-minute virtual “coffee date” once a month to build the human connection they crave.
Last year we conducted a People Management Study by surveying more than 5,000 employees. What we found was that employees want more feedback, not less. Your employees telecommuting want to know where they stand—same as any other employee. Scheduling time to deliver feedback—both positive and constructive—will help build trust between you and your remote reports.
These conversations are also an opportunity for your remote counterparts to speak up about anything they want to address, e.g. if they’re not feeling included as part of the team. These feedback sessions are an incredible way to support your remote teammates.
Set clear expectations.
Whereas it’s easy to catch the ear of an employee in the office when a project changes directions, it’s not as simple to get that communication out to a remote employee. When working on a project with a remote team member, set clear expectations: roles, responsibilities, deadlines, etc. Remember, remote employees are often measured on performance alone, so it’s critical they know what’s expected of them to perform well.
One of our core values here at PI is “reliability,” and that plays such a key role in building trust. As your team member, I need to know that you’re going to do what you said you’re going to do. I need to know I can rely on you. This is such an underrated way to build trust, but it’s key to building healthy working relationships.
How PI is making life easier for remote employees
I would be remiss if, as a content producer here at PI, I didn’t talk about what we’re doing to make life easier for remote employees—both as a company and through the PI platform.
Understand what drives your team.
When you’re not in the same room as a colleague, you miss out on important nonverbal cues that tell you more about how that person wants to be interacted with. So often we learn how to interact with our coworkers through frequent interaction with them.
Using the results of the PI Behavioral Assessment™, you can learn what drives and motivates your coworkers at a glance. You don’t need to spend months interacting in a physical environment to figure it out. From the get-go, you know what their work style is, you know their communication preferences, and you know how they deal with change. These insights can be leveraged regardless of location to build positive, harmonious working relationships.
Our talent optimization software also generates easy-to-use Relationship Guides, showing areas of combined strengths, potential areas of weakness in working or interacting together, and tips to improve the relationship.
Manage to the individual, not the work environment.
Some employees want to be told what to do; others want to run with an idea and have some degree of autonomy over their to do list. Some employees have a need for frequent interaction with their teammates; others do their best work alone.
As a manager, it’s important to understand these things about your employees, because it helps you manage and motivate them more effectively. But especially when you’re managing remote employees, knowing what drives your employees from a behavioral standpoint can help you to support them in integrating with your in-office team.
If your remote employee has high dominance, they likely want to share their input and leave their mark on things. You might accommodate this by making sure they have an opportunity to speak during meetings. If your remote employee has a high extraversion drive, you might have them schedule more video chats with colleagues to ensure that their need for socializing and inclusion is met. (My Reference Profile is Maverick, which means I have high dominance and high extraversion.)
If you have someone with a high degree of patience, or the need for things to be stable and steady, you might use a project management tool that helps them to plan their day and know what to expect, so there’s no surprises in their work day.
I’ll leave you with this, which is perhaps the most important insight I could share with you: Trust your remote teammates. It has been such a relief to work on a team that doesn’t say, “What are you working on today, Shannon?” or check in at random intervals to make sure I’m at my computer. I’m here. I’m working. I’m on it. That unspoken trust that comes from letting your remote employee set the pace and get their work done without being micromanaged goes a long way toward creating an engaged and productive employee.
At the end of the day, remote work is growing, but it’s not replacing on-site teams. It’s simply becoming an extension of our in-person office environments. Learning how to effectively integrate your telecommuting employees will play a key role in management positions moving forward.