I have been a remote employee on and off for years. Sometimes this has been an amazing situation. I am able to put my head down and grind out websites or content that would have taken hours or even days longer if I had to deal with the distractions in an office setting.

Sometimes, though, it can get pretty lonely.

I know that my managers never want the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” to apply to one of their employees. However, that’s all too often exactly what happens with remote personnel. In today’s increasingly digital world, it’s fairly common to have employees all over the world. Because they’re not physically present at the mothership, sometimes the communication loop gets fractured. Making sure these employees, even the contract workers, are included in important conversations and culture-building activities will help improve the whole team’s ability to operate smoothly.

The best way business leaders can help remote and physical employees feel like a team is to be contentious of communication. An open and honest line of communication will not just keep them in the loop, it will boost the productivity, job satisfaction and retention for the whole office. Here are a few tips to smooth out any wrinkles with remote employee communication.

Emphasize Email Etiquette

I can tell you right away that this is the number one frustration with offices that allow telecommuting. A lot can get lost in email translation, especially to and from remote employees. How many times have you written an email or a text message with a fairly neutral tone, only to discover the recipient found it harsh or offensive? There are two little phrases that can make all the difference: please and thank you. I cannot emphasize this enough — this is a two way street. Both remote and physical employees must be extremely contentious when writing emails. You have no clue how that distance coworker’s day is going. Be polite in email, even when you’re frustrated or angry. If there’s a serious issue, pick up the phone or chat in real time. You’ll find that collaboration becomes more supportive when you harness the power of positivity in your emails. Above all think before you hit the send button and always show your appreciation for the other person’s time and talent.

Create Social Interaction

Workers in the office can’t always tell when a remote employee is stressed or buried. Likewise, remote employees may not understand the personalities of their coworkers because they miss out on those water cooler and copy machine conversations. However, that doesn’t mean distance has to be an obstacle to team building. Build a Facebook group for your company that allows employees’ to share photos, videos and posts. Create an internal newsletter that keeps everyone updated on important information. Be sure your office workers know the locations of all your remote employees, so than when major weather events or news stories occur in those areas, they can check in and discuss the impact. Create an open and affirming office culture that promotes digital social interaction and diverse discussions.

Conference with video and chat with Skype

Give your remote employees opportunities to engage with their coworkers in the home office by using video conferencing for meetings. The remote employee may not want to be on video at first, but you’ll all quickly find that the face-to-face interactions strengthen collaboration and productivity. Instead of being a phantom voice on the phone, video conferencing shows that they’re a living and breathing human being. It allows everyone, both office and remote, to feel like one team. In addition, real-time chat is an extremely effective way to work. Remote employees cannot be technophobes and they cannot expect the busy staff at the home office to stop what they’re doing and pick up the phone every time clarification is needed. I work in an office where we are required to keep Skype open at all times. It really makes a difference when I need clarification from an SME or a file from a virtual assistant. 

Sometimes that feeling of disconnect can limit perspective and squash innovation. When remote employees feel included, their work reflects it. Likewise, when employees present at the home office need a task completed on deadline, they know they can rely on the timely expertise of those who telecommute. Ideas are generally born from conversation, from bouncing ideas off your professional peers. If you need to boost the quality of your remote employees’ work, consider ways to encourage them to interact with the team. 

PS: As I was looking for images about remote employees, hundreds of images of laptops at the beach popped up. I just want to clarify this misconception for those who work in the home office. At least in my experience, rarely do telecommuting employees get to work with their feet in the ocean, soaking with the sun in a swimsuit. Pajamas all day? Sure, I’ll own that. Working on a beach? Not that often, if ever.

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