It’s 2023 and nearly three-quarters of U.S. companies are using—or moving toward—a hybrid work model.
And although studies show that remote employees can be just as productive as—and often happier than—their onsite counterparts, they’re also more prone to feeling disconnected.
According to Owl Labs’ 2022 State of Remote Work Report, remote workers may believe that they are victims of “proximity bias”—i.e., that they have less say in company matters than in-person coworkers, that their managers view them as lightweights, and that they may be overlooked for career opportunities.
The study—which surveyed more than 2,300 remote and hybrid workers—also found that, when included on video conference calls alongside onsite coworkers, home-based workers are likely to feel sidelined.
But remote and hybrid work is here to stay, which is why employers should look for ways to help distant workers feel connected. Here are some good places to start.
Embrace a Remote-First Culture
A remote-first culture is based on the idea that all employees work remotely—even if that’s not the case. Adopting this mindset prompts leaders to make decisions and set procedures from a more holistic viewpoint—whether updating communication best practices, evaluating new technologies, or planning company events.
After all, if everyone is potentially a remote worker, no one becomes an afterthought.
Support Leaders Managing Offsite Employees
Some employees in supervisory roles have had a hard time adapting to remote and hybrid work models. They may compensate by micromanaging their people, or—at the opposite end of the spectrum—failing to provide them with enough one-on-one support.
That’s why giving leaders formal training and guidelines for managing their remote workforce promotes professional development and strengthens their leadership approach—from scheduling weekly one-on-ones or providing formal coaching sessions to employees to setting clear expectations, set your leaders up for success in supporting their diverse employee reports.
The bottom line is, when your managers are on their game, your employees are more likely to feel like they’re part of the team.
Keep Everyone in the Loop…Equally
One powerful way to help people feel connected is to remind them of what you share in common—i.e., core values and goals—and to keep them current on how the company is doing.
In other words, make sure you have a robust vehicle for sharing corporate, department, and individual employee news, as well as champion managing the process. Celebrate your successes, but also be frank when results fall short. All employees value transparency—it creates a sense of trust and inclusion that can transcend physical distance.
Re-evaluate Your Video Conferencing Technology
When the pandemic began in early 2020, many companies scrambled to adopt virtual meeting technology. However, only one-third of employers have since updated their platform.
The reality is, what served you well in a pinch during lockdown may no longer be your best option—especially given recent advances in video conferencing technology. Now that you have a better understanding of your work model, survey the market and see what makes the most sense for your organization. That goes for your messaging app, too!
Reconfigure a Conference Room, If Necessary
On that note, if you have a hybrid workforce, be mindful that remote employees who attend meetings virtually may be missing out on much of the action. (Managers might try participating in meetings remotely to experience this firsthand.)
According to the Owl Labs’ survey, employees who attend meetings remotely often feel isolated because they can’t tell who’s speaking or see everyone’s faces (and therefore miss important visual cues). As a result, they’re hesitant to speak up and appear to participate less—creating a vicious cycle.
Look for ways to mitigate this by rearranging the seating and/or the placement of your video camera and equipment. It’s a small change that might make a big difference.
Emphasize Teamwork—and Team Play
Early on in the pandemic, many employers went out of their way to sponsor virtual games and happy hours to keep their workforce connected. But as time went on and more employees returned to the workplace, many of these practices fell by the wayside.
In addition to your regular virtual team meetings, give some thought to bringing back some lighthearted activities. Celebrate employee milestones online. Hold occasional department-wide coffee breaks.
In other words, give your remote and hybrid employees a chance to engage in some virtual water cooler chit-chat—they may miss it more than either of you think.
Allowing your employees to work remotely—full-time or on a hybrid basis—offers benefits to them, to you, and even to the environment. But it does present certain challenges, including the risk of disconnected employees. By taking steps to bridge the gap and nurture the ties that bind, you can keep your people close—no matter where they actually are.
Burnout, disconnection, and layoffs are workplace trends that are negatively affecting the workforce. Learn how to optimize your workforce after layoffs.
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