It’s no secret that the workplace of today looks dramatically different than it did a decade ago. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find yoga happening over lunch, dogs wandering the halls, and a beer keg in place of a water cooler. For a growing number, the workplace may even be no further than a few steps away from the bedroom. Over the past ten years, the number of Americans working remotely has increased by a whopping 115 percent.
With the convenience of the cloud and the prevalence of workplace collaboration tools, the remote workforce is growing at a rapid pace. And while remote work comes with many advantages for both businesses and employees (working in pajamas, anyone?), it’s important that companies remember not to fall into an "out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
Remote workers are part of the lifeblood of your company, and you’ve got to treat them as if they are right there in the trenches with you. Zendesk recently polled its remote employees, including employees based in remote offices, and learned a few things that were missing from their workplace experience. If you manage a remote employee, team, or office, these are some great ways to keep them feeling engaged, inspired, and remind them that they’re not alone.
Create opportunities for connection
When you’re working from home in your PJs while the rest of your team is out at a happy hour, the isolation and FOMO can start to set in. People who work remotely enjoy the flexibility of working locations and hours but often miss out on the buzz and bustle of an office. The setting can be pretty isolating for even the most introverted of people. The same goes for people who work in satellite offices, thousands of miles away from the rest of their team or company. It can be easy for them to forget that they’re not just working a silo, but are actually part of a larger, dynamic organization.
Oftentimes, the only interaction remote workers may get with people from headquarters are meetings with tight agendas, leaving no room for genuine conversation and collaboration (and, as we all know, meetings can often get cancelled at the last minute). Because of this, managers of remote workers need to make sure their employees are getting the face time they need, and that starts with 1:1s. We all know the feeling—that rush of relief that comes from a cancelled meeting—but managers should resist the urge to brush 1:1s aside. Sure, your direct report may be incredibly self-sufficient and there may not be much to cover that day, but your call with them could be their one opportunity for connection with a colleague that week. If there is little to cover, use the opportunity to check in on how they’re doing, give feedback on an assignment, or share an important learning from a previous project. This leaves room to have an unexpected conversation and helps develop a stronger relationship.
Sure, your direct report may be incredibly self-sufficient and there may not be much to cover that day, but your call with them could be their one opportunity for connection with a colleague that week.
Another way to create meaningful connections is through mentorship programs or virtual meet-and-greets. Zapier, a company that is built entirely of remote employees, does this through a program called "Pair Buddies"—short, personal check-ins to see what others at the company are up to. These weekly random pairings allow their remote workforce to catch up on news about work, life or anything in between, and helps maintain a social component at work.
Managers can help facilitate remote mentorship programs by actively identifying an ideal mentor to pair with a direct report. Once that person has been identified, take it a step further by making an introduction and scheduling a virtual meeting for them. Taking action shows that you really care about your remote employee’s ability to build internal relationships and meaningful connections. Offering remote employees more informal ways to connect with peers also helps foster employee engagement and enhances cross-departmental collaboration—and that benefits everyone in the long run.
Taking action shows that you really care about your remote employee’s ability to build internal relationships and meaningful connections.
Focus on learning and development
Many companies have increased personal development trainings and even offer a Learning and Development (L&D) budget for employees to spend on a class or program related to their field. These programs are great for keeping employees engaged, challenged, and excited to come in to the office every day. When building programming around L&D, don’t forget to include remote employees and offices.
Zendesk, for instance, offers experiential learning programs called Learning Labs to all employees. These sessions range from topics like improving presentation skills to trainings around unconscious bias. As the company grows, it wants to ensure that all employees are constantly learning. In addition to Learning Labs, employees also receive access to Udemy for self-serve on-demand trainings that teach or improve a wide range of skill sets.
But the support shouldn’t stop there. Remote workers also need the right support when it comes to technology. Consider the programs, tools, and elements that are going to help them be successful in their roles. These tools may look different from the ones in-office employees frequently use, so make sure you are constantly gathering feedback from your remote workforce. You want to know that something as trivial as not having access to an internal database isn’t keeping them from doing their job.
Great company culture is bred from empathy
Part of the magic of working at a company’s headquarters is the chance to get involved in the various activities, events, and happenings taking place right in front of them. Employees based at the mothership often benefit from things like guest speakers, special lunches, and group activities. As these opportunities are offered at headquarters, make sure similar programming is being created and tailored to other remote offices. For those special events that can only take place at headquarters (like a company all-hands meeting, for instance), ensure that all resources are accessible to remote offices and employees. Whether it’s a livestream of a speaker or additional reading materials, all relevant materials should be uploaded to a shared folder and accessible to everyone.
Statistics show that these things really matter. Company culture has a direct impact on employee turnover, affecting productivity, and success. A Columbia University study found that the likelihood of job turnover at an organization with high company culture is a mere 13.9 percent, but that number climbs to 48.4 percent for organizations with low company cultures. For that reason, it’s crucial to ensure the culture you’ve worked so hard on extends beyond the four walls of your headquarters.
For those special events that can only take place at headquarters (like a company all-hands meeting, for instance), ensure that all resources are accessible to remote offices and employees.
To help get a feel for what may be lacking in company culture from the perspective of your remote employees, a good start can be to put yourself in their shoes. Having empathy for what remote workers are seeing and feeling is key to understanding what kind of programming and resources they may need. Hubspot, a company that builds marketing and sales software, takes this a step further by hosting their own "remote week." Upon realizing how quickly their company was expanding, their marketing team decided to participate in a "remote week" where everyone worked offsite. This exercise helped them learn more about the experiences and challenges of working as a remote employee or in a satellite office.
At the end of the day, the people that make up your business are the heart of your company. Similar to how you invest in your product, invest in your people—and not only the ones you see every day. It’s important to remember that company culture is more than just setting up ping pong tables or hosting weekly happy hours: it’s about how all your employees work and engage with one another.
Katrina Hafford is a communications manager for Zendesk. You can find her wandering around San Francisco listening to a podcast, taking a hip hop dance class, or admiring dogs that don’t belong to her. Find her on Twitter at: @katrinahafford.